Body stability and muscle and motor cortex activity during walking with wide stance

J Neurophysiol. 2014 Aug 1;112(3):504-24. doi: 10.1152/jn.00064.2014. Epub 2014 Apr 30.


Biomechanical and neural mechanisms of balance control during walking are still poorly understood. In this study, we examined the body dynamic stability, activity of limb muscles, and activity of motor cortex neurons [primarily pyramidal tract neurons (PTNs)] in the cat during unconstrained walking and walking with a wide base of support (wide-stance walking). By recording three-dimensional full-body kinematics we found for the first time that during unconstrained walking the cat is dynamically unstable in the forward direction during stride phases when only two diagonal limbs support the body. In contrast to standing, an increased lateral between-paw distance during walking dramatically decreased the cat's body dynamic stability in double-support phases and prompted the cat to spend more time in three-legged support phases. Muscles contributing to abduction-adduction actions had higher activity during stance, while flexor muscles had higher activity during swing of wide-stance walking. The overwhelming majority of neurons in layer V of the motor cortex, 82% and 83% in the forelimb and hindlimb representation areas, respectively, were active differently during wide-stance walking compared with unconstrained condition, most often by having a different depth of stride-related frequency modulation along with a different mean discharge rate and/or preferred activity phase. Upon transition from unconstrained to wide-stance walking, proximal limb-related neuronal groups subtly but statistically significantly shifted their activity toward the swing phase, the stride phase where most of body instability occurs during this task. The data suggest that the motor cortex participates in maintenance of body dynamic stability during locomotion.

Keywords: body dynamic stability; cat; locomotion; motor cortex activity; pyramidal tract neurons.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cats
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Walking / physiology*