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Motion Analysis Lab Research: Locomotor Plasticity in Health and Disease

Supported by NIH HD04741 (Bastian)

Walking requires precise coordination of movement timing and scaling between the two legs. This inter-limb coordination is often disrupted after neurological injury (e.g. stroke), resulting in abnormal, asymmetric walking patterns. Recent data show that locomotor patterns can be altered through treadmill training, even after central nervous system damage, raising the possibility that abnormal inter-limb coordination could be remediated with adaptive training strategies. In this project, we will study adaptation of inter-limb coordination during walking, by using a split-belt treadmill to control walking speed of the two legs independently. Our data and the work of others suggest that inter-limb adaptation could rely, in part, on the integrity of supraspinal structures such as: 1) cerebellar-brainstem circuits and/or 2) sensorimotor regions of cerebral cortex, via the corticospinal tract. We hypothesize that inter-limb adaptation is most dependent on cerebellar-brainstem interactions. If so, people with other types of neurological damage, but with intact cerebellar function (e.g. hemiparesis), could benefit from adaptive split-belt treadmill training to correct abnormal, asymmetric walking patterns.

In this project we are studying locomotor adaptation mechanisms in healthy control subjects and people with focal brain damage to answer the following questions: 1) What is the human capacity for adaptation of inter-limb coordination during locomotion (dynamic range, extent of storage, and generalization to other contexts)? 2) What brain structures are critical for adaptation of inter-limb coordination during locomotion? 3) Can adaptive training improve inter-limb coordination and walking patterns in people with neurological damage? These studies will provide important new information about the neural mechanisms of locomotor adaptation, as well as providing a new rehabilitation tool for people with asymmetric gait patterns resulting from central nervous system damage (e.g. stroke, cerebral palsy).

Studies in Progress:

  • Does split-belt treadmill walking adaptation transfer to over ground walking post-stroke?
  • What influences the generalization of split-belt treadmill walking adaptation to overground walking?

Upcoming Studies:

  • Long-term split-belt treadmill training following stroke

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