Gait acts as a gate for reflexes from the foot

Duysens, J.; Bastiaanse, C. M.; Smits-Engelsman, B. C. M.; Dietz, V.
August 2004
Canadian Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology;Aug2004, Vol. 82 Issue 8/9, p715
Academic Journal
During human gait, electrical stimulation of the foot elicits facilitatory P2 (medium latency) responses in TA (tibialis anterior) at the onset of the swing phase, while the same stimuli cause suppressive responses at the end of swing phase, along with facilitatory responses in antagonists. This phenomenon is called phase-dependent reflex reversal. The suppressive responses can be evoked from a variety of skin sites in the leg and from stimulation of some muscles such as rectus femoris (RF). This paper reviews the data on reflex reversal and adds new data on this topic, using a split-belt paradigm. So far, the reflex reversal in TA could only be studied for the onset and end phases of the step cycle, simply because suppression can only be demonstrated when there is background activity. Normally there are only 2 TA bursts in the step cycle, whereas TA is normally silent during most of the stance phase. To know what happens in the stance phase, one needs to have a means to evoke some background activity during the stance phase. For this purpose, new experiments were carried out in which subjects were asked to walk on a treadmill with a split-belt. When the subject was walking with unequal leg speeds, the walking pattern was adapted to a gait pattern resembling limping. The TA then remained active throughout most of the stance phase of the slow-moving leg, which was used as the primary support. This activity was a result of coactivation of agonistic and antagonistic leg muscles in the supporting leg, and represented one of the ways to stabilize the body. Electrical stimulation was given to a cutaneous nerve (sural) at the ankle at twice the perception threshold. Nine of the 12 subjects showed increased TA activity during stance phase while walking on split-belts, and 5 of them showed pronounced suppressions during the first part of stance when stimuli were given on the slow side. It was concluded that a TA suppressive pathway remains open throughout most of the stance phase in the majority of subjects. The suggestion was made that the TA suppression increases loading of the ankle plantar flexors during the loading phase of stance.


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