Previous studies have demonstrated that "locomotor-like" rhythmic patterns can be evoked in the isolated neonatal rat spinal cord by several means, including pharmacological neuromodulation and electrical stimulation of various pathways. Recent studies have used stimulation of afferent pathways to evoke rhythmic patterns, relying on synaptic activation of interneuronal systems rather than global imposition of neuromodulatory state by pharmacological agents. We use the in vitro neonatal rat spinal cord with attached hindlimb to examine the muscle activation patterns evoked by stimulation of these different pathways and evaluate whether stimulation of these pathways all evoke the same patterns. We find that the patterns evoked by bath application of serotonin (5-HT) and N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) consisted of alternation between hip flexors and extensors and similar alternation was observed in the patterns evoked by electrical stimulation of the cauda equina (CE) or contralateral fifth lumbar (L5) dorsal nerve root. In contrast, the knee extensor/hip flexor rectus femoris (RF) and knee flexor/hip extensor semitendinosus (ST) were activated differentially across stimulation conditions. In 5-HT/NMDA patterns, RF was active in late flexion and ST in late extension. In CE patterns, these two muscles switched places with RF typically active in late extension and ST active in flexion. In L5 patterns, ST was activated in extension and RF was silent or weakly active during flexion. There were also systematic differences in the consistency of rhythms evoked by each stimulation method: patterns evoked by electrical stimulation of CE or L5 were less consistently modulated with the rhythm when compared with 5-HT/NMDA-evoked patterns. All differences were preserved following deafferentation, demonstrating that they reflect intrinsic properties of spinal systems. These results highlight the intrinsic flexibility of motor pattern generation by spinal motor circuitry which is present from birth and provides important information to many studies examining spinal pattern generating networks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas