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J Exp Biol. 2001 Jun;204(Pt 11):1979-89.

Twisting and bending: the functional role of salamander lateral hypaxial musculature during locomotion.

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Department of Biology and Graduate Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 611 North Pleasant Road, Amherst, MA 01003-9297, USA.


The function of the lateral hypaxial muscles during locomotion in tetrapods is controversial. Currently, there are two hypotheses of lateral hypaxial muscle function. The first, supported by electromyographic (EMG) data from a lizard (Iguana iguana) and a salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus), suggests that hypaxial muscles function to bend the body during swimming and to resist long-axis torsion during walking. The second, supported by EMG data from lizards during relatively high-speed locomotion, suggests that these muscles function primarily to bend the body during locomotion, not to resist torsional forces. To determine whether the results from D. ensatus hold for another salamander, we recorded lateral hypaxial muscle EMGs synchronized with body and limb kinematics in the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum. In agreement with results from aquatic locomotion in D. ensatus, all four layers of lateral hypaxial musculature were found to show synchronous EMG activity during swimming in A. tigrinum. Our findings for terrestrial locomotion also agree with previous results from D. ensatus and support the torsion resistance hypothesis for terrestrial locomotion. We observed asynchronous EMG bursts of relatively high intensity in the lateral and medial pairs of hypaxial muscles during walking in tiger salamanders (we call these 'alpha-bursts'). We infer from this pattern that the more lateral two layers of oblique hypaxial musculature, Mm. obliquus externus superficialis (OES) and obliquus externus profundus (OEP), are active on the side towards which the trunk is bending, while the more medial two layers, Mm. obliquus internus (OI) and transversus abdominis (TA), are active on the opposite side. This result is consistent with the hypothesis proposed for D. ensatus that the OES and OEP generate torsional moments to counteract ground reaction forces generated by forelimb support, while the OI and TA generate torsional moments to counteract ground reaction forces from hindlimb support. However, unlike the EMG pattern reported for D. ensatus, a second, lower-intensity burst of EMG activity ('beta-burst') was sometimes recorded from the lateral hypaxial muscles in A. tigrinum. As seen in other muscle systems, these beta-bursts of hypaxial muscle coactivation may function to provide fine motor control during locomotion. The presence of asynchronous, relatively high-intensity alpha-bursts indicates that the lateral hypaxial muscles generate torsional moments during terrestrial locomotion, but it is possible that the balance of forces from both alpha- and beta-bursts may allow the lateral hypaxial muscles to contribute to lateral bending of the body as well.

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