Key points: Stimulation of hindlimb afferent fibres can both stabilize and increase the activity of fore- and hindlimb motoneurons during fictive locomotion. The increase in motoneuron activity is at least partially due to the production of doublets of action potentials in a subpopulation of motoneurons. These results were obtained using an in vitro brainstem/spinal cord preparation of neonatal rat.
Abstract: Quadrupedal locomotion relies on a dynamic coordination between central pattern generators (CPGs) located in the cervical and lumbar spinal cord, and controlling the fore- and hindlimbs, respectively. It is assumed that this CPG interaction is achieved through separate closed-loop processes involving propriospinal and sensory pathways. However, the functional consequences of a concomitant involvement of these different influences on the degree of coordination between the fore- and hindlimb CPGs is still largely unknown. Using an in vitro brainstem/spinal cord preparation of neonatal rat, we found that rhythmic, bilaterally alternating stimulation of hindlimb sensory input pathways elicited coordinated hindlimb and forelimb CPG activity. During pharmacologically induced fictive locomotion, lumbar dorsal root (DR) stimulation entrained and stabilized an ongoing cervico-lumbar locomotor-like rhythm and increased the amplitude of both lumbar and cervical ventral root bursting. The increase in cervical burst amplitudes was correlated with the occurrence of doublet action potential firing in a subpopulation of motoneurons, enabling the latter to transition between low and high frequency discharge according to the intensity of DR stimulation. Moreover, our data revealed that propriospinal and sensory pathways act synergistically to strengthen cervico-lumbar interactions. Indeed, split-bath experiments showed that fully coordinated cervico-lumbar fictive locomotion was induced by combining pharmacological stimulation of either the lumbar or cervical CPGs with lumbar DR stimulation. This study thus highlights the powerful interactions between sensory and propriospinal pathways which serve to ensure the coupling of the fore- and hindlimb CPGs for effective quadrupedal locomotion.
Keywords: locomotion; neonatal rodent; neural network interactions; sensory pathways.
© 2021 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2021 The Physiological Society.