Locomotor-like leg movements evoked by rhythmic arm movements in humans

Francesca Sylos-Labini, Yuri P. Ivanenko, Michael J. MacLellan, Germana Cappellini, Richard E. Poppele, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Motion of the upper limbs is often coupled to that of the lower limbs in human bipedal locomotion. It is unclear, however, whether the functional coupling between upper and lower limbs is bi-directional, i.e. whether arm movements can affect the lumbosacral locomotor circuitry. Here we tested the effects of voluntary rhythmic arm movements on the lower limbs. Participants lay horizontally on their side with each leg suspended in an unloading exoskeleton. They moved their arms on an overhead treadmill as if they walked on their hands. Hand-walking in the antero-posterior direction resulted in significant locomotor-like movements of the legs in 58% of the participants. We further investigated quantitatively the responses in a subset of the responsive subjects. We found that the electromyographic (EMG) activity of proximal leg muscles was modulated over each cycle with a timing similar to that of normal locomotion. The frequency of kinematic and EMG oscillations in the legs typically differed from that of arm oscillations. The effect of hand-walking was direction specific since medio-lateral arm movements did not evoke appreciably leg air-stepping. Using externally imposed trunk movements and biomechanical modelling, we ruled out that the leg movements associated with hand-walking were mainly due to the mechanical transmission of trunk oscillations. EMG activity in hamstring muscles associated with hand-walking often continued when the leg movements were transiently blocked by the experimenter or following the termination of arm movements. The present results reinforce the idea that there exists a functional neural coupling between arm and legs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90775
JournalPLoS One
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 7 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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