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Preparation and performance of obstacle steps: interaction between brain and spinal neuronal activity

Authors

  • Jenny Haefeli,

    1. Spinal Cord Injury Center, University of Zurich, Balgrist University Hospital, Forchstrasse 340, CH – 8008 Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Stefanie Vögeli,

    1. Spinal Cord Injury Center, University of Zurich, Balgrist University Hospital, Forchstrasse 340, CH – 8008 Zurich, Switzerland
    2. Institute of Human Movement Sciences and Sport, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Jan Michel,

    1. Spinal Cord Injury Center, University of Zurich, Balgrist University Hospital, Forchstrasse 340, CH – 8008 Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Volker Dietz

    1. Spinal Cord Injury Center, University of Zurich, Balgrist University Hospital, Forchstrasse 340, CH – 8008 Zurich, Switzerland
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Professor Dr Volker Dietz, as above.
E-mail: vdietz@paralab.balgrist.ch

Abstract

This study investigated the interactions of supraspinal with spinal neuronal circuits during obstacle steps by recordings of electroencephalography (EEG), reflex activity and limb muscle electromyography (EMG). Subjects walking with reduced vision on a treadmill were acoustically informed about an approaching obstacle and received feedback about task performance. Only following a task-relevant acoustic signal, spinal reflex responses, evoked by tibial nerve stimulation during mid-stance, were enhanced in proximal arm and leg flexor muscles prior to obstacle compared to normal swing, reflecting the neuronal preparation of the task. During swing over the obstacle, limb muscle EMG activity was greater than in normal swing. Both the preparation and the performance (i.e. ascending movement slope of the obstacle-crossing leg) were associated with an enhanced EEG signal mainly in the prefrontal cortex of the right hemisphere. Adaptational changes in performance, reflex activity and muscle activation during repetitive obstacle stepping were not reflected in the EEG activity, probably due to an insufficient resolution of the EEG. The observations suggest that drive from supraspinal centers initiates and maintains spinal neuronal activity underlying obstacle task preparation and performance.

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