Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 90, Issue 2, pp 404–414 | Cite as

Phase-dependent reversal of reflexly induced movements during human gait

  • J. Duysens
  • A. A. M. Tax
  • M. Trippel
  • V. Dietz


To investigate whether phase-dependent reversals in reflex responses on electromyography (EMG) are accompanied by movement reversals, a series of human volunteers were studied for their behavioural responses to sural nerve stimulation during running or walking on a treadmill. Low-intensity stimulation (< 2.5 x perception threshold, T) of the sural nerve yielded facilitatory responses in the tibialis anterior muscle (TA), correlated with an induced ankle dorsiflexion (mean maximum 4°) in early swing. The same stimuli yielded primarily TA suppression and weak ankle plantar flexion (mean maximum 1°) at end swing. The correlated induced knee angle changes did not precede the ankle changes, and they were relatively small. Mean maximum flexion in early swing was 6.2°, while mean maximum extension was 3.7°. High-intensity stimulation of the sural nerve (> 2.5 x T) always gave rise to suppression of the ongoing activity. This resulted in a second type of movement reversal. During late stance and early swing the responses in TA were suppressive (i.e. below background activity) and related to ankle plantar flexion. In contrast, the responses during early and middle stance consisted of suppression in extensor activity (gastrocnemius medialis and soleus) and ankle dorsiflexion.

The data are discussed in terms of a new hypothesis, which states that the responses to electrical stimulation of cutaneous nerves during locomotion do not correspond directly to corrections for stumbling following mechanical perturbations during the step cycle. Instead, the data invite a reinterpretation in terms of the opening and closing of reflex pathways, presumably by a central pattern generator for locomotion.

Key words

Human gait Sural nerve Ankle angle Reflex reversal Phase-dependent modulation Human 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Duysens
    • 1
  • A. A. M. Tax
    • 1
  • M. Trippel
    • 2
  • V. Dietz
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical Physics and BiophysicsUniversity of NijmegenHB NijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Neurology and NeurophysiologyUniv. of FreiburgFreiburg im BreisgauFederal Republic of Germany

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