Rapid changes in corticospinal excitability during force field adaptation of human walking

D Barthélemy, S Alain, M J Grey, J B Nielsen, L J Bouyer

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Force field adaptation of locomotor muscle activity is one way of studying the ability of the motor control networks in the brain and spinal cord to adapt in a flexible way to changes in the environment. Here, we investigate whether the corticospinal tract is involved in this adaptation. We measured changes in motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle before, during, and after subjects adapted to a force field applied to the ankle joint during treadmill walking. When the force field assisted dorsiflexion during the swing phase of the step cycle, subjects adapted by decreasing TA EMG activity. In contrast, when the force field resisted dorsiflexion, they increased TA EMG activity. After the force field was removed, normal EMG activity gradually returned over the next 5 min of walking. TA MEPs elicited in the early swing phase of the step cycle were smaller during adaptation to the assistive force field and larger during adaptation to the resistive force field. When elicited 5 min after the force field was removed, MEPs returned to their original values. The changes in TA MEPs were larger than what could be explained by changes in background TA EMG activity. These effects seemed specific to walking, as similar changes in TA MEP were not seen when seated subjects were tested during static dorsiflexion. These observations suggest that the corticospinal tract contributes to the adaptation of walking to an external force field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-115
Number of pages17
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Adaptation
  • Locomotion
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

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