Features of hand-foot crawling behavior in human adults

M. J. MacLellan, Y. P. Ivanenko, G. Cappellini, F. Sylos Labini, F. Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interlimb coordination of crawling kinematics in humans shares features with other primates and nonprimate quadrupeds, and it has been suggested that this is due to a similar organization of the locomotor pattern generators (CPGs). To extend the previous findings and to further explore the neural control of bipedal vs. quadrupedal locomotion, we used a crawling paradigm in which healthy adults crawled on their hands and feet at different speeds and at different surface inclinations (13°, 27°, and 35°). Ground reaction forces, limb kinematics, and electromyographic (EMG) activity from 26 upper and lower limb muscles on the right side of the body were collected. The EMG activity was mapped onto the spinal cord in approximate rostrocaudal locations of the motoneu-ron pools to characterize the general features of cervical and lumbo-sacral spinal cord activation. The spatiotemporal pattern of spinal cord activity significantly differed between quadrupedal and bipedal gaits. In addition, participants exhibited a large range of kinematic coordination styles (diagonal vs. lateral patterns), which is in contrast to the stereotypical kinematics of upright bipedal walking, suggesting flexible coupling of cervical and lumbosacral pattern generators. Results showed strikingly dissimilar directional horizontal forces for the arms and legs, considerably retracted average leg orientation, and substantially smaller sacral vs. lumbar motoneuron activity compared with quadrupedal gait in animals. A gradual transition to a more vertical body orientation (increasing the inclination of the treadmill) led to the appearance of more prominent sacral activity (related to activation of ankle plantar flexors), typical of bipedal walking. The findings highlight the reorganization and adaptation of CPG networks involved in the control of quadrupedal human locomotion and a high specialization of the musculoskeletal apparatus to specific gaits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-125
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • Arm-leg coordination
  • Electromyographic activity
  • Quadrupedal locomotion
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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