Neural Control of Locomotion

Giuliano Taccola

Amount of frontal teaching:
15 hours

The course describes the functional organization of the neuromotor system dedicated to locomotion. Locomotion is introduced as a prototypical function of the central nervous system originating from rhythmogenic neuronal networks that face biomechanical constrains and environmental challenges to express a patterned and flexible motor behaviour. Locomotion is then addressed in more detail, as the continuous processing of volitional brain commands, along with the automatic activity of spinal neuronal circuits and the afferent feedback from the periphery.

Network reconfiguration is described in response to physiological (development and training) and pathological (motor disorders) conditions. Continuous links to experimental studies allow students to become familiar with classical and advanced electrophysiology on in vivo and in vitro rodent preparations.

At the end of the course, translational perspectives for the recovery of motor functions after a spinal cord injury are discussed.


  1. Basics on spinal infrastructure: spinal cord and spinal motoneurons.
  2. Electrophysiological probes to study the function of sensorimotor spinal networks: Hoffmann reflex, F - wave, cord dorsum potentials, spinal reflexes and cortico-spinal responses.
  3. Biomechanics of locomotion: the locomotor program.
  4. The neural origin of the locomotor program: central pattern generators.
  5. Emergent properties of neuronal networks and sensory feedback.
  6. In vitro preparations from neonatal rodents to explore the organization of locomotor CPGs.
  7. Integrative spinal physiology: A) modulating the excitability of spinal locomotor networks through limb exercise, B) coupling respiratory and locomotor rhythms during physical activity.
  8. Updates on motor recovery after spinal injury using neuromodulation.

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