Coordinated network functioning in the spinal cord: an evolutionary perspective

J Physiol Paris. Nov-Dec 2006;100(5-6):304-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2007.05.003. Epub 2007 Jun 7.


The successful achievement of harmonious locomotor movement results from the integrated operation of all body segments. Here, we will review current knowledge on the functional organization of spinal networks involved in mammalian locomotion. Attention will not simply be restricted to hindlimb muscle control, but by also considering the necessarily coordinated activation of trunk and forelimb muscles, we will try to demonstrate that while there has been a progressive increase in locomotor system complexity during evolution, many basic organizational features have been preserved across the spectrum from lower vertebrates through to humans. Concerning the organization of axial neuronal networks that control trunk muscles, it has been found across the vertebrate range that during locomotor movement a motor wave travels longitudinally in the spinal cord via the coupling of rhythmic segmental networks. For hindlimb activation it has been found in all species studied that the rostral lumbar segments contain the key elements for pattern generation. We also showed that rhythmic arm movements are under the control of cervical forelimb generators in quadrupeds as well as in human. Finally, it is highlighted that the coordination of quadrupedal movements during locomotion derives principally from an asymmetrical coordinating influence occurring in the caudo-rostral direction from the lumbar hindlimb networks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*