The vertebrate control of locomotion involves all levels of the nervous system from cortex to the spinal cord. Here, we aim to cover all main aspects of this complex behavior, from the operation of the microcircuits in the spinal cord to the systems and behavioral levels and extend from mammalian locomotion to the basic undulatory movements of lamprey and fish. The cellular basis of propulsion represents the core of the control system, and it involves the spinal central pattern generator networks (CPGs) controlling the timing of different muscles, the sensory compensation for perturbations, and the brain stem command systems controlling the level of activity of the CPGs and the speed of locomotion. The forebrain and in particular the basal ganglia are involved in determining which motor programs should be recruited at a given point of time and can both initiate and stop locomotor activity. The propulsive control system needs to be integrated with the postural control system to maintain body orientation. Moreover, the locomotor movements need to be steered so that the subject approaches the goal of the locomotor episode, or avoids colliding with elements in the environment or simply escapes at high speed. These different aspects will all be covered in the review.
Keywords: basal ganglia; central pattern generators; cerebellum; spinal cord; vestibular; visuomotor.