Studies have suggested that the nervous system may adopt a control scheme in which synergistic muscle groups are controlled by common excitation patters, or modules, to simplify the coordination of movement tasks such as walking. A recent computer modeling and simulation study of human walking using experimentally derived modules as the control inputs provided evidence that individual modules are associated with specific biomechanical subtasks, such as generating body support and forward propulsion. The present study tests whether the modules identified during normal walking could produce simulations of walking when the mechanical demands were substantially altered. Walking simulations were generated that emulated human subjects who had their body weight and/or body mass increased and decreased by 25%. By scaling the magnitude of five module patterns, the simulations could emulate the subjects' response to each condition by simply scaling the mechanical output from modules associated with specific biomechanical subtasks. Specifically, the modules associated with providing body support increased (decreased) their contribution to the vertical ground reaction force when body weight was increased (decreased) and the module associated with providing forward propulsion increased its contribution to the positive anterior-posterior ground reaction force and positive trunk power when the body mass was increased. The modules that contribute to controlling leg swing were unaffected by the perturbations. These results support the idea that the nervous system may use a modular control strategy and that flexible modulation of module recruitment intensity may be sufficient to meet large changes in mechanical demand.
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