When animals walk overground, mechanical stimuli activate various receptors located in muscles, joints, and skin. Afferents from these mechanoreceptors project to neuronal networks controlling locomotion in the spinal cord and brain. The dynamic interactions between the control systems at different levels of the neuraxis ensure that locomotion adjusts to its environment and meets task demands. In this article, we describe and discuss the essential contribution of somatosensory feedback to locomotion. We start with a discussion of how biomechanical properties of the body affect somatosensory feedback. We follow with the different types of mechanoreceptors and somatosensory afferents and their activity during locomotion. We then describe central projections to locomotor networks and the modulation of somatosensory feedback during locomotion and its mechanisms. We then discuss experimental approaches and animal models used to investigate the control of locomotion by somatosensory feedback before providing an overview of the different functional roles of somatosensory feedback for locomotion. Lastly, we briefly describe the role of somatosensory feedback in the recovery of locomotion after neurological injury. We highlight the fact that somatosensory feedback is an essential component of a highly integrated system for locomotor control.
This content will become publicly available on April 8, 2023
Contribution of Afferent Feedback to Adaptive Hindlimb Walking in Cats: A Neuromusculoskeletal Modeling Study
Mammalian locomotion is generated by central pattern generators (CPGs) in the spinal cord, which produce alternating flexor and extensor activities controlling the locomotor movements of each limb. Afferent feedback signals from the limbs are integrated by the CPGs to provide adaptive control of locomotion. Responses of CPG-generated neural activity to afferent feedback stimulation have been previously studied during fictive locomotion in immobilized cats. Yet, locomotion in awake, behaving animals involves dynamic interactions between central neuronal circuits, afferent feedback, musculoskeletal system, and environment. To study these complex interactions, we developed a model simulating interactions between a half-center CPG and the musculoskeletal system of a cat hindlimb. Then, we analyzed the role of afferent feedback in the locomotor adaptation from a dynamic viewpoint using the methods of dynamical systems theory and nullcline analysis. Our model reproduced limb movements during regular cat walking as well as adaptive changes of these movements when the foot steps into a hole. The model generates important insights into the mechanism for adaptive locomotion resulting from dynamic interactions between the CPG-based neural circuits, the musculoskeletal system, and the environment.
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- Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
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