The flexion synergy, mother of all synergies and father of new models of gait

Front Comput Neurosci. 2013 Mar 13;7:14. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2013.00014. eCollection 2013.


Recently there has been a growing interest in the modular organization of leg movements, in particular those related to locomotion. One of the basic modules involves the flexion of the leg during swing and it was shown that this module is already present in neonates (Dominici et al., 2011). In this paper, we question how these finding build upon the original work by Sherrington, who proposed that the flexor reflex is the basic building block of flexion during swing phase. Similarly, the relation between the flexor reflex and the withdrawal reflex modules of Schouenborg and Weng (1994) will be discussed. It will be argued that there is large overlap between these notions on modules and the older concepts of reflexes. In addition, it will be shown that there is a great flexibility in the expression of some of these modules during gait, thereby allowing for a phase-dependent modulation of the appropriate responses. In particular, the end of the stance phase is a period when the flexor synergy is facilitated. It is proposed that this is linked to the activation of circuitry that is responsible for the generation of locomotor patterns (CPG, "central pattern generator"). More specifically, it is suggested that the responses in that period relate to the activation of a flexor burst generator. The latter structure forms the core of a new asymmetric model of the CPG. This activation is controlled by afferent input (facilitation by a broad range of afferents, suppression by load afferent input). Meanwhile, many of these physiologic features have found their way in the control of very flexible walking bipedal robots.

Keywords: central pattern generator; flexion reflex; forward model; gait; local sign; reflex modules; synergy.