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J Neurosci. 2013 Jul 10;33(28):11599-605. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1126-13.2013.

Emergence of deletions during treadmill locomotion as a function of supraspinal and sensory inputs.

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Groupe de Recherche sur le Système Nerveux Central, Université de Montréal, Department of Physiology, and SensoriMotor Rehabilitation Research Team, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


During locomotion, alternating activity of flexor and extensor muscles is largely regulated by a spinal neuronal network, the central pattern generator, the activity of which is modulated by peripheral and supraspinal inputs. In the absence of these modulatory inputs, for example during fictive locomotion after spinalization and curarization, spontaneous failures of motor activation (deletions) in a muscle can occur without perturbing the rhythmic cycle structure of the antagonists on the same side or the contralateral side. This suggests that the central pattern generator can maintain the locomotor period when motoneuron discharges fail in a given pool of motoneurons. Here we first examined whether such deletions could occur during real locomotion on a treadmill and determined their consequences on the overt locomotor pattern. We also evaluated the role of supraspinal and sensory inputs in modulating the occurrence of failures of rhythmic activity by comparing the same cats in the intact state, then after a partial spinal cord injury (SCI), and finally after a complete SCI at different treadmill speeds. We showed that deletions: (1) are absent in intact animals and occur only after SCI; (2) affect only flexor muscle activity; (3) neither perturb the timing of rhythmic activity of these muscles in subsequent cycles nor interfere with the timing of the ipsilateral and contralateral agonists and antagonists; (4) do not affect significantly the locomotor pattern kinematics; and (5) are sensitive to treadmill speed and lesion severity, suggesting a role for sensory and supraspinal inputs in stabilizing rhythmic output activity.

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