Spatiotemporal organization of α-motoneuron activity in the human spinal cord during different gaits and gait transitions

Y. P. Ivanenko, G. Cappellini, R. E. Poppele, F. Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Here we studied the spatiotemporal organization of motoneuron (MN) activity during different human gaits. We recorded the electromyographic (EMG) activity patterns in 32 ipsilateral limb and trunk muscles from normal subjects while running and walking on a treadmill (3-12 km/h). In addition, we recorded backward walking and skipping, a distinct human gait that comprises the features of both walking and running. We mapped the recorded EMG activity patterns onto the spinal cord in approximate rostrocaudal locations of the MN pools. The activation of MNs tends to occur in bursts and be segregated by spinal segment in a gait-specific manner. In particular, sacral and cervical activation timings were clearly gait-dependent. Swing-related activity constituted an appreciable fraction (> 30%) of the total MN activity of leg muscles. Locomoting at non-preferred speeds (running and walking at 5 and 9 km/h, respectively) showed clear differences relative to preferred speeds. Running at low speeds was characterized by wider sacral activation. Walking at high non-preferred speeds was accompanied by an 'atypical' locus of activation in the upper lumbar spinal cord during late stance and by a drastically increased activation of lumbosacral segments. The latter findings suggest that the optimal speed of gait transitions may be related to an optimal intensity of the total MN activity, in addition to other factors previously described. The results overall support the idea of flexibility and adaptability of spatiotemporal activity in the spinal circuitry with constraints on the temporal functional connectivity of hypothetical pulsatile burst generators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3351-3368
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Electromyography
  • Functional imaging
  • Gait optimization
  • Human locomotion
  • Motoneuron activity
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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