, Volume 90, Issue 3, pp 557-566

Entrainment of the locomotor rhythm by group Ib afferents from ankle extensor muscles in spinal cats

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Summary

1. Previous studies have concluded that the timing of the locomotor rhythm can be strongly influenced by input from group Ib afferents from leg extensor muscles (Duysens and Pearson 1980; Conway et al. 1987). The main objective of the present study was to obtain additional evidence for this conclusion by examining the characteristics of entrainment of the locomotor rhythm by rhythmic stimulation of group I afferents and by rhythmic force pulses in the ankle extensor muscles. 2. A reduced, non-immobilized preparation was developed in spinal cats that allowed isometric contractions of ankle extensor muscles to be elicited by ventral root stimulation during the expression of locomotor activity. The same preparation was used to examine the influence of electrically stimulating group I afferents from the ankle extensors and the effect of rhythmically stretching these muscles. The locomotor rhythm was initiated by sustained mechanical stimulation of the perineum following the administration of Clonidine and, in some preparations, Naloxone. 3. The timing of the onset of flexor burst activity was examined during entrainment with saw-tooth and ramp-and-hold stretches of the ankle extensor muscles. Flexor bursts were initiated about 200 ms following the release from the stretch, and this latency was independent of the entrainment frequency. 4. The locomotor rhythm was readily entrained by rhythmic contractions of the ankle extensor muscles produced by ventral root stimulation provided the magnitude of the contractions was greater than about 10N. Repetitive stimulation of group I muscle afferents from the ankle extensors also entrained the locomotor rhythm, with the timing of motor activity being similar to that during entrainment with rhythmic muscle contractions. Burst activity in the ipsilateral extensors was coincident with the stimulus trains in both cases. This similarity argues for entrainment being produced mainly by input from group Ib afferents. 5. The functional implication of the results of this and previous studies is that input from group Ib afferents during the stance phase of walking acts to inhibit generation of flexor burst activity and to promote extensor activity. The proposal that a decline in Ib activity near the end of the stance phase is involved in regulating the stance to swing transition is discussed.

CRSN, Physiologie, Faculte de Medecine, C.P. 6128, succursal A, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, H3C 3J7