Differences in movement mechanics, electromyographic, and motor cortex activity between accurate and nonaccurate stepping

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Apr;103(4):2285-300. doi: 10.1152/jn.00360.2009. Epub 2010 Feb 17.


What are the differences in mechanics, muscle, and motor cortex activity between accurate and nonaccurate movements? We addressed this question in relation to walking. We assessed full-body mechanics (229 variables), activity of 8 limb muscles, and activity of 63 neurons from the motor cortex forelimb representation during well-trained locomotion with different demands on the accuracy of paw placement in cats: during locomotion on a continuous surface and along horizontal ladders with crosspieces of different widths. We found that with increasing accuracy demands, cats assumed a more bent-forward posture (by lowering the center of mass, rotating the neck and head down, and by increasing flexion of the distal joints) and stepped on the support surface with less spatial variability. On the ladder, the wrist flexion moment was lower throughout stance, whereas ankle and knee extension moments were higher and hip moment was lower during early stance compared with unconstrained locomotion. The horizontal velocity time histories of paws were symmetric and smooth and did not differ among the tasks. Most of the other mechanical variables also did not depend on accuracy demands. Selected distal muscles slightly enhanced their activity with increasing accuracy demands. However, in a majority of motor cortex cells, discharge rate means, peaks, and depths of stride-related frequency modulation changed dramatically during accurate stepping as compared with simple walking. In addition, in 30% of neurons periods of stride-related elevation in firing became shorter and in 20-25% of neurons activity or depth of frequency modulation increased, albeit not linearly, with increasing accuracy demands. Considering the relatively small changes in locomotor mechanics and substantial changes in motor cortex activity with increasing accuracy demands, we conclude that during practiced accurate stepping the activity of motor cortex reflects other processes, likely those that involve integration of visual information with ongoing locomotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cats / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Forelimb / innervation
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Hindlimb / innervation
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*