Crossed commissural pathways in the spinal hindlimb enlargement are not necessary for right left hindlimb alternation during turtle swimming

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Oct;98(4):2223-31. doi: 10.1152/jn.00722.2007. Epub 2007 Aug 22.


We examined the coordination between right and left hindlimbs during voluntary forward swimming in adult red-eared turtles, before and after midsagittal section of the spinal cord hindlimb enlargement (segments D8-S2) or the enlargement plus the first preenlargement segment (D7-S2). Our purpose was to assess the role of crossed commissural axons in these segments for right-left hindlimb alternation during voluntary locomotion. Midsagittal splitting severed commissural fibers and separated the right and left halves of the posterior spinal cord. Adult turtles (n = 9) were held by a band clamp around the shell in a water-filled tank while digital video of forward swimming was recorded from below and computer analyzed with motion analysis software. In a subset of these animals (n = 5), we also recorded electromyograms from hip extensor and/or hip flexor muscles on both sides. Surprisingly, splitting spinal segments D8-S2 or D7-S2 did not affect the strength of out-of-phase coordination between right and left hindlimbs, although hindlimb movement amplitudes were reduced compared with presurgical controls. These results show that commissural axons in the hindlimb enlargement and preenlargement cord are not necessary for right-left hindlimb alternation during voluntary swimming. We suggest that alternating propriospinal drive from the right and left sides of the forelimb enlargement maintains the out-of-phase coordination of right and left hindlimbs in the bisected-cord preparation. Our data support the hypothesis that descending propriospinal (forelimb-hindlimb) and crossed commissural (hindlimb-hindlimb) spinal cord pathways function together as redundant mechanisms to sustain right-left hindlimb alternation during turtle locomotion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Hindlimb / innervation*
  • Muscle Denervation
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Turtles / physiology*