Obstacle stepping involves spinal anticipatory activity associated with quadrupedal limb coordination


Professor Dr Volker Dietz, as above.
E-mail: Volker.Dietz@balgrist.ch


Obstacle avoidance steps are associated with a facilitation of spinal reflexes in leg muscles. Here we have examined the involvement of both leg and arm muscles. Subjects walking with reduced vision on a treadmill were acoustically informed about an approaching obstacle and received feedback about task performance. Reflex responses evoked by tibial nerve stimulation were observed in all arm and leg muscles examined in this study. They were enhanced before the execution of obstacle avoidance compared with normal steps and showed an exponential adaptation in contralateral arm flexor muscles corresponding to the improvement of task performance. This enhancement was absent when the body was partially supported during the task. During the execution of obstacle steps, electromyographic activity in the arm muscles mimicked the preceding reflex behaviour with respect to enhancement and adaptation. Our results demonstrate an anticipatory quadrupedal limb coordination with an involvement of proximal arm muscles in the acquisition and performance of this precision locomotor task. This is presumably achieved by an up-regulated activity of coupled cervico-thoracal interneuronal circuits.