Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Intégratives d'Aquitaine (UMR5287)

Aquitaine Institute for Cognitive and Integrative Neuroscience

Université de Bordeaux

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CNRS Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Université de Bordeaux

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Brainstem Steering of Locomotor Activity in the Newborn Rat

by Wolff - published on

Brainstem Steering of Locomotor Activity in the Newborn Rat

Brainstem Steering of Locomotor Activity in the Newborn Rat
Zied Oueghlani, Cyril Simonnet, Laura Cardoit, Gilles Courtand, Jean-René Cazalets, Didier Morin, Laurent Juvin and Grégory Barrière
Journal of Neuroscience 29 August 2018, 38 (35) 7725-7740; DOI:

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Locomotor function allows the survival of most animal species while sustaining the expression of fundamental behaviors. Locomotor activities adapt from moment to moment to behavioral and environmental changes. In this study, Zied Oueghlani, Laurent Juvin and Grégory Barrière, together with other collaborators from the CPGs team and the lab, show that the brainstem can control the spinal locomotor network outputs through phasic descending commands that alternate bilaterally. Manipulating the periodicity and/or the relative durations of the left and right descending commands at the brainstem level is efficient to set the locomotor speed and sustain directional changes.


Control of locomotion relies on motor loops conveying modulatory signals between brainstem and spinal motor circuits. We investigated the steering control of the brainstem reticular formation over the spinal locomotor networks using isolated brainstem–spinal cord preparations of male and female neonatal rats. First, we performed patch-clamp recordings of identified reticulospinal cells during episodes of fictive locomotion. This revealed that a spinal ascending phasic modulation of reticulospinal cell activity is already present at birth. Half of the cells exhibited tonic firing during locomotion, while the other half emitted phasic discharges of action potentials phase locked to ongoing activity. We next showed that mimicking the phasic activity of reticulospinal neurons by applying patterned electrical stimulation bilaterally at the ventral caudal medulla level triggered fictive locomotion efficiently. Moreover, the brainstem stimuli induced locomotor rhythm was entrained in a one-to-one coupling over a range of cycle periods (2– 6 s). Additionally, we induced turning like motor outputs by either increasing or decreasing the relative duration of the stimulation trains on one side of the brainstem compared to the other. The ability of the patterned descending command to control the locomotor output depended on the functional integrity of ventral reticulospinal pathways and the involvement of local spinal central pattern generator circuitry. Altogether, this study provides a mechanism by which brainstem reticulospinal neurons relay steering and speed commands to the spinal locomotor networks.