Coupling of upper and lower limb pattern generators during human crawling at different arm/leg speed combinations

M. J. MacLellan, Y. P. Ivanenko, G. Catavitello, V. La Scaleia, F. Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A crawling paradigm was performed by healthy adults to examine inter-limb coupling patterns and to understand how central pattern generators (CPGs) for the upper and lower limbs are coordinated. Ten participants performed hands-and-feet crawling on two separate treadmills, one for the upper limbs and another one for the lower limbs, the speed of each of them being changed independently. A 1:1 frequency relationship was often maintained even when the treadmill speed was not matched between the upper and lower limbs. However, relative stance durations in the upper limbs were only affected by changes of the upper limb treadmill speed, suggesting that although absolute times are adjusted, the relative proportions of stances and swing do not adapt to changes in lower limb treadmill speeds. With large differences between treadmill speeds, changes in upper and lower limb coupling ratio tended to occur when the upper limbs stepped at slower speeds than the lower limbs, but more rarely the other way around. These findings are in sharp contrast with those in the cat, where forelimbs always follow the rhythm of the faster moving hindlimbs. However, the fact that an integer frequency ratio is often maintained between the upper and lower limbs supports evidence of coupled CPG control. We speculate that the preference for the upper limb to decrease step frequency at lower speeds in humans may be due to weaker ascending propriospinal connections and/or a larger influence of cortical control on the upper limbs which allows for an overriding of spinal CPG control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-225
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Arm/leg coordination
  • Central pattern generator
  • Quadrupedal locomotion
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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