Genetic identification of spinal interneurons that coordinate left-right locomotor activity necessary for walking movements

Neuron. 2004 May 13;42(3):375-86. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(04)00249-1.


The sequential stepping of left and right limbs is a fundamental motor behavior that underlies walking movements. This relatively simple locomotor behavior is generated by the rhythmic activity of motor neurons under the control of spinal neural networks known as central pattern generators (CPGs) that comprise multiple interneuron cell types. Little, however, is known about the identity and contribution of defined interneuronal populations to mammalian locomotor behaviors. We show a discrete subset of commissural spinal interneurons, whose fate is controlled by the activity of the homeobox gene Dbx1, has a critical role in controlling the left-right alternation of motor neurons innervating hindlimb muscles. Dbx1 mutant mice lacking these ventral interneurons exhibit an increased incidence of cobursting between left and right flexor/extensor motor neurons during drug-induced locomotion. Together, these findings identify Dbx1-dependent interneurons as key components of the spinal locomotor circuits that control stepping movements in mammals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genes, fos / genetics
  • Genes, fos / physiology
  • Homeodomain Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Interneurons / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Motor Activity / genetics*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*
  • Walking / physiology*


  • Dbx1 protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins