Task specific adaptations in rat locomotion: runway versus horizontal ladder

Behav Brain Res. 2006 Apr 3;168(2):272-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2005.11.017. Epub 2006 Jan 10.


In walking quadrupeds the alternating activity pattern of antagonistic leg muscles and the coordination between legs is orchestrated by central pattern generating networks within the spinal cord. These networks are activated by tonic input from the reticular formation in the brainstem. Under more challenging conditions, such as walking on a horizontal ladder, successful locomotion relies upon additional context dependent input from pathways such as the cortico- and rubro-spinal tracts. In this study we used electromyographic and kinematic approaches to characterize the adaptations in the walking pattern in adult uninjured rats crossing a horizontal ladder. We found that the placement of a hind limb on a rung precisely followed the placement of the ipsilateral fore limb. This is different to normal walking where the hind limb is placed behind the position of the ipsilateral fore limb. The increased reach of the hind limbs is achieved by increased flexion of the hip and rotation of the pelvis during the swing phase. Electromyographic observations showed decreased burst duration in Tibialis anterior an ankle flexor muscle. Further changes in the muscle activity pattern were likely due to the reduced stepping frequency during ladder walking. Following a lesion of the dorsal column, containing major parts of the corticospinal tract, we found an increased number of stepping errors and changes in the stepping strategy. The step length of the fore limbs was reduced and the hind limbs were frequently positioned on rungs other than those occupied by the fore limb.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Female
  • Joints / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Lew
  • Running / physiology*
  • Spinal Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Injuries / physiopathology
  • Video Recording / methods
  • Walking / physiology