Migration of motor pool activity in the spinal cord reflects body mechanics in human locomotion

Germana Cappellini, Yuri P Ivanenko, Nadia Dominici, Richard E Poppele, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


During the evolution of bipedal modes of locomotion, a sequential rostrocaudal activation of trunk muscles due to the undulatory body movements was replaced by more complex and discrete bursts of activity. Nevertheless, the capacity for segmental rhythmogenesis and the rostrocaudal propagation of spinal cord activity has been conserved. In humans, motoneurons of different muscles are arranged in columns, with a specific grouping of muscles at any given segmental level. The muscle patterns of locomotor activity and the biomechanics of the body center of mass have been studied extensively, but their interrelationship remains poorly understood. Here we mapped the electromyographic activity recorded from 30 bilateral leg muscles onto the spinal cord in approximate rostrocaudal locations of the motoneuron pools during walking and running in humans. We found that the rostrocaudal displacements of the center of bilateral motoneuron activity mirrored the changes in the energy due to the center-of-body mass motion. The results suggest that biomechanical mechanisms of locomotion, such as the inverted pendulum in walking and the pogo-stick bouncing in running, may be tightly correlated with specific modes of progression of motor pool activity rostrocaudally in the spinal cord.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3064-73
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Anthropometry
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons
  • Nerve Net
  • Running
  • Spinal Cord
  • Walking
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


Dive into the research topics of 'Migration of motor pool activity in the spinal cord reflects body mechanics in human locomotion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this