Motor primitives and synergies in the spinal cord and after injury—the current state of play

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Modular pattern generator elements, also known as burst synergies or motor primitives, have become a useful and important way of describing motor behavior, albeit controversial. It is suggested that these synergy elements may constitute part of the pattern-shaping layers of a McCrea/Rybak two-layer pattern generator, as well as being used in other ways in the spinal cord. The data supporting modular synergies range across species including humans and encompass motor pattern analyses and neural recordings. Recently, synergy persistence and changes following clinical trauma have been presented. These new data underscore the importance of understanding the modular structure of motor behaviors and the underlying circuitry to best provide principled therapies and to understand phenomena reported in the clinic. We discuss the evidence and different viewpoints on modularity, the neural underpinnings identified thus far, and possible critical issues for the future of this area.

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