The control of limb geometry in cat posture

F. Lacquaniti, M. Le Taillanter, L. Lopiano, C. Maioli

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The aim of this study is to address the problem of the controlled variable in quadrupedal stance. In particular, we considered whether the projection of the centre of mass of the body on the support surface or the joint torques or the geometrial configuration of the limbs are primarily controlled. Cats were trained to stand freely on a platform which could be tilted in the sagittal plane by up to ±20 deg. The normal and tangential components of the contact forces at each paw were measured by means of load cells. The position of limb joints was recorded by means of the ELITE system. The projection of the centre of body mass on the platform, as well as the orientation and length of limb axes, varied to only a limited extent with tilt angle. In particular, the limb axes were closely lined up with the vertical, as were the vectors of the contact forces at the paws. As a result, the torques at the proximal joints (scapula and hip) were close to zero and the torques at the other joints varied little with table tilt. In order to test the different hypotheses on postural control, an external load (10-20% of the animal weight) was applied to the cat forequarters. The projected centre of mass consistently shifted forewards, contrary to the hypothesis that this parameter is controlled in stance. Instead, the geometry of limb posture remained unmodified after load application, even though the torques at forelimb joints were much greater than in the control. This postural behaviour showed no sign of adaptation over a period of 24 h of continuous load application. It is concluded that limb geometry is primarily controlled in stance. The results are discussed in the context of current notions on hierarchical control and body scheme.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-192
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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