The maturation of locomotor networks

Prog Brain Res. 2004;143:57-66. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(03)43006-9.


In both vertebrates and invertebrates, the elaboration of locomotion, and its neural control by the central nervous system, are extremely flexible. This is due not only to the network properties of relevant sets of central neurons, but also to the active participation of mutually co-operative central and peripheral loops of neural projections and activity. In this chapter, we describe experiments in which the above concepts have been advanced by comparing locomotor properties in the adult vs. neonatal rat preparation. Data obtained from the in vivo vs. in vitro preparation, and swimming vs. walking behavior, suggest that the locomotor pattern progressively exhibited after birth corresponds to successive steps in the maturation of locomotor networks. Our work emphasises that during the late pre- and early postnatal period, three distinct neural entities--segmental sensory input, descending pathways, and motoneurons--play a key role in the maturation of locomotion and its neural control. We propose that the neonatal rat preparation is an excellent model for studying the conversion from immature to adult locomotion. Some neural controls are more clearly demonstrable in the developing animal preparation than in the adult because the latter exhibits an array of complex and redundant adaptive mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / growth & development
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology*
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Rats / physiology
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology