Metachronal coupling between spinal neuronal networks during locomotor activity in newborn rat

J Physiol. 2007 Apr 1;580(Pt 1):87-102. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.115709. Epub 2006 Dec 21.


In the present study, we investigate spinal cord neuronal network interactions in the neonatal rat during locomotion. The behavioural and physiological relevance of metachronally propagated locomotor activity were inferred from kinematic, anatomical and in vitro electrophysiological data. Kinematic analysis of freely behaving animals indicated that there is a rhythmic sequential change in trunk curvature during the step cycle. The motoneurons innervating back and tail muscles were identified along the spinal cord using retrograde labelling. Systematic multiple recordings from ventral roots were made to determine the precise intrinsic pattern of coordination in the isolated spinal cord. During locomotor-like activity, rhythmic ventral root motor bursts propagate caudo-rostrally in the sacral and the thoracic spinal cord regions. Plotting the latency as a function of the cycle period revealed that the system adapts the intersegmental latency to the ongoing motor period in order to maintain a constant phase relationship along the spinal axis. The thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions were capable of generating right and left alternating motor bursts when isolated. Longitudinal sections of the spinal cord revealed that both the bilateral antiphase pattern observed for the sacral region with respect to the lumbar segment 2 as well as the intersegmental phase lag were due to cross-cord connections. Together, these results provide physiological evidence that the dynamic changes observed in trunk bending during locomotion are determined by the intrinsic organization of spinal cord networks and their longitudinal and transverse interactions. Similarities between this organization, and that of locomotor pattern generation in more primitive vertebrates, suggest that the circuits responsible for metachronal propagation of motor patterns during locomotion are highly conserved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Hindlimb / innervation
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Spinal Nerve Roots / physiology