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Involuntary stepping after chronic spinal cord injury
Evidence for a central rhythm generator for locomotion in man

Blair Calancie, Belinda Needham-Shropshire, Patrick Jacobs, Keith Willer, Gregory Zych, Barth A. Green
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/117.5.1143 1143-1159 First published online: 1 October 1994


We investigated a pattern of involuntary lower extremity stepping-like movements which recently appeared in a subject with a 17-year history of neurologically incomplete injury to the cervical spinal cord. The movements were rhythmic, alternating and forceful, involved all muscles of the lower extremities and could be reliably evoked by lying the subject down (supine) and extending his hips. Once in this position, the movements continued spontaneously, in the absence of external sensory perturbations, with a step-cycle duration of ˜3.5 s (0.3 Hz). This rate could be either increased or temporarily halted by specific sensory inputs. Anaesthetizing the subject's right hip joint, in which we found evidence of pathology, led to a marked attenuation of the stepping movements for a period of ˜15 min. We believe that a combination of (i) preserved but limited supraspinal tonic facilitation, and (ii) abnormal, perhaps noxious afferent inflow from the subject's right hip to the spinal cord may underlie the appearance of this highly unusual and involuntary movement pattern. The striking similarity between the movement and EMG patterns in this subject and those described in many reports using the surgically reduced cat model suggests that we were witnessing the first well-defined example of a central rhythm generator for stepping in the adult human.

  • spinal cord injury
  • locomotion
  • central rhythm generator

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