Infoscience

Journal article

Organisation of the spinal central pattern generators for locomotion in the salamander: biology and modelling

Among living tetrapods, salamanders are regarded as most closely resembling the first terrestrial vertebrates, and are therefore an interesting group in which the evolutionary changes in the locomotor behaviour from aquatic to terrestrial habitats can be inferred. Salamanders exhibit two locomotor modes: swimming and terrestrial stepping. The swimming is anguilliform and resembles closely that of the lamprey. On the ground, the salamander switches to a stepping gait with axial undulations that is also observed in many reptiles. The salamander is therefore ideally suited for examining the neural mechanisms for the generation of these two locomotor modes, as well as the neural mechanisms of gait transition. In the present paper, we describe the kinematics and patterns of activation of axial and limb muscles during stepping and swimming in adult salamanders. We then review the current neurobiological data about the organisation of the spinal networks underlying swimming and stepping, and the mechanisms of gait transition. Finally we report modelling studies aimed at understanding the organisation and operation of the salamander locomotor circuits. Altogether, the neurobiological and the modelling data support the hypothesis of a phylogenetic conservatism from agnathians to amphibians of the spinal locomotor networks generating axial motor patterns.

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