Interlimb Coordination during Tied-Belt and Transverse Split-Belt Locomotion before and after an Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

J Neurotrauma. 2017 May 1;34(9):1751-1765. doi: 10.1089/neu.2016.4421. Epub 2016 Jun 27.


Coordination between the arms/forelimbs and legs/hindlimbs is often impaired in humans and quadrupedal mammals after incomplete spinal cord injury. In quadrupeds, the forelimbs often take more steps than the hindlimbs, producing a two-to-one forelimb-hindlimb (2-1 FL-HL) coordination. In locomotor performance scales, this is generally considered a loss of FL-HL coordination. Here, FL-HL coordination was quantified before and 8 weeks after a lateral spinal hemisection at the sixth thoracic segment in six adult cats. Cats were tested during tied-belt locomotion (equal front and rear speeds) and transverse split-belt locomotion with the forelimbs or hindlimbs stepping faster. The results show that consistent phasing between forelimb and hindlimb movements was maintained after hemisection, even with the appearance of 2-1 FL-HL coordination, indicating that new stable forms of coordination emerge. Moreover, transverse split-belt locomotion potently modulated interlimb coordination and was capable of restoring a one-to-one FL-HL coordination with a faster treadmill speed for the hindlimbs. In conclusion, the results suggest that neural communication persists after an incomplete spinal cord injury, despite an unequal number of steps between the forelimbs and hindlimbs, and that interlimb coordination can be modulated by having the forelimbs or hindlimbs move at a faster frequency. We propose that locomotor recovery scales incorporate more sensitive methods to quantify FL-HL coordination, to better reflect residual functional capacity and possible cervicolumbar neural communication. Lastly, devising training protocols that make use of the bidirectional influences of the cervical and lumbar locomotor pattern generators could strengthen interlimb coordination and promote locomotor recovery.

Keywords: locomotor function; recovery; spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cats
  • Electromyography
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Locomotion*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Walking