Modulation of the gait pattern during split-belt locomotion after lateral spinal cord hemisection in adult cats

J Neurophysiol. 2022 Dec 1;128(6):1593-1616. doi: 10.1152/jn.00230.2022. Epub 2022 Nov 16.


Most previous studies investigated the recovery of locomotion in animals and people with incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) during relatively simple tasks (e.g., walking in a straight line on a horizontal surface or a treadmill). We know less about the recovery of locomotion after incomplete SCI in left-right asymmetric conditions, such as turning or stepping along circular trajectories. To investigate this, we collected kinematic and electromyography data during split-belt locomotion at different left-right speed differences before and after a right thoracic lateral spinal cord hemisection in nine adult cats. After hemisection, although cats still performed split-belt locomotion, we observed several changes in the gait pattern compared with the intact state at early (1-2 wk) and late (7-8 wk) time points. Cats with larger lesions showed new coordination patterns between the fore- and hindlimbs, with the forelimbs taking more steps. Despite this change in fore-hind coordination, cats maintained consistent phasing between the fore- and hindlimbs. Adjustments in cycle and phase (stance and swing) durations between the slow and fast sides allowed animals to maintain 1:1 left-right coordination. Periods of triple support involving the right (ipsilesional) hindlimb decreased in favor of quad support and triple support involving the other limbs. Step and stride lengths decreased with concurrent changes in the right fore- and hindlimbs, possibly to avoid interference. The above adjustments in the gait pattern allowed cats to retain the ability to locomote in asymmetric conditions after incomplete SCI. We discuss potential plastic neuromechanical mechanisms involved in locomotor recovery in these conditions.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Everyday locomotion often involves left-right asymmetries, when turning, walking along circular paths, stepping on uneven terrains, etc. To show how incomplete spinal cord injury affects locomotor control in asymmetric conditions, we collected data before and after a thoracic lateral spinal hemisection on a split-belt treadmill with one side stepping faster than the other. We show that adjustments in kinematics and muscle activity allowed cats to retain the ability to perform asymmetric locomotion after hemisection.

Keywords: interlimb coordination; lateral hemisection; spinal cord; split-belt locomotion.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electromyography
  • Gait / physiology
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Locomotion* / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*