Unidirectional brain to muscle connectivity reveals motor cortex control of leg muscles during stereotyped walking

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Abstract

In lower mammals, locomotion seems to be mainly regulated by subcortical and spinal networks. On the contrary, recent evidence suggests that in humans the motor cortex is also significantly engaged during complex locomotion tasks. However, a detailed understanding of cortical contribution to locomotion is still lacking especially during stereotyped activities. Here, we show that cortical motor areas finely control leg muscle activation during treadmill stereotyped walking. Using a novel technique based on a combination of Reliable Independent Component Analysis, source localization and effective connectivity, and by combining electroencephalographic (EEG) and electromyographic (EMG) recordings in able-bodied adults we were able to examine for the first time cortical activation patterns and cortico-muscular connectivity including information flow direction. Results not only provided evidence of cortical activity associated with locomotion, but demonstrated significant causal unidirectional drive from contralateral motor cortex to muscles in the swing leg. These insights overturn the traditional view that human cortex has a limited role in the control of stereotyped locomotion, and suggest useful hypotheses concerning mechanisms underlying gait under other conditions.

One sentence summary

Motor cortex proactively drives contralateral swing leg muscles during treadmill walking, counter to the traditional view of stereotyped human locomotion.

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