Activity of motor cortex neurons during backward locomotion.
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Forward walking (FW) and backward walking (BW) are two important forms of locomotion in quadrupeds. Participation of the motor cortex in the control of FW has been intensively studied, while cortical activity during BW has never been investigated. The aim of this study was to analyze locomotion-related activity of the motor cortex during BW, and compare it to that during FW. For this purpose, we recorded activity of individual neurons in the cat during BW and FW. We found that the discharge frequency in almost all neurons was modulated in the rhythm of stepping during both FW and BW. However, the modulation patterns during BW and FW were different in 80% of neurons. To determine the source of modulating influences (forelimb controllers versus hindlimb controllers), the neurons were recorded not only during quadrupedal locomotion, but also during bipedal locomotion (with either forelimbs or hindlimbs walking), and their modulation patterns were compared. We found that during BW (like during FW), modulation in some neurons was determined by inputs from limb controllers of only one girdle, while the other neurons received inputs from both girdles. The combinations of inputs could depend on the direction of locomotion. Most often (in 51% of forelimb-related neurons and in 34% of the hindlimb-related neurons), the neurons received inputs only from their own girdle when this girdle was leading, and from both girdles when this girdle was trailing. This reconfiguration of inputs suggests flexibility of the functional roles of individual cortical neurons during different forms of locomotion.