Contributions of the reticulospinal system to the postural adjustments occurring during voluntary gait modifications

J Neurophysiol. 2001 Feb;85(2):679-98. doi: 10.1152/jn.2001.85.2.679.


To test the hypothesis that reticulospinal neurons (RSNs) are involved in the formation of the dynamic postural adjustments that accompany visually triggered, voluntary modifications of limb trajectory during locomotion, we recorded the activity of 400 cells (183 RSNs; 217 unidentified reticular cells) in the pontomedullary reticular formation (PMRF) during a locomotor task in which intact cats were required to step over an obstacle attached to a moving treadmill belt. Approximately one half of the RSNs (97/183, 53%) showed significant changes in cell activity as the cat stepped over the obstacle; most of these cells exhibited either single (26/97, 26.8%) or multiple (63/97, 65.0%) increases of activity. There was a range of discharge patterns that varied in the number, timing, and sequencing of the bursts of modified activity, although individual bursts in different cells tended to occur at similar phases of the gait cycle. Most modified cells, regardless of the number of bursts of increased discharge, or of the discharge activity of the cell during unobstructed, control, locomotion, discharged during the passage of the lead forelimb over the obstacle. Thus, 86.9% of the modified cells increased their discharge when the forelimb ipsilateral to the recording site was the first to pass over the obstacle, and 72.2% when the contralateral limb was the first. Approximately one quarter of the RSNs increased their discharge during the passage of each of the four limbs over the obstacle in both the lead (27.1%) and trail (27.9%) conditions. In general, in any one cell, the number and relative sequencing of the subsequent bursts (with respect to the lead forelimb) was maintained during both lead and trail conditions. Patterns of activity observed in unidentified cells were very similar to the RSN activity despite the diverse population of cells this unidentified group may represent. We suggest that the increased discharge that we observed in these reticular neurons reflects the integration of afferent activity from several sources, including the motor cortex, and that this increased discharge signals the timing and the relative magnitude of the postural patterns that accompany the voluntary gait modification. However, based on the characteristics of the patterns of neuronal activity in these cells, we further suggest that while individual RSNs probably contribute to the selection of different patterns of postural activity, the ultimate expression of the postural response may be determined by the excitability of the locomotor circuits within the spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Electromyography
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Pons / physiology
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Reticular Formation / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*