Open Access Open Badges Research article

Amplification of interlimb reflexes evoked by stimulating the hand simultaneously with conditioning from the foot during locomotion

Tsuyoshi Nakajima1, Trevor Barss2, Taryn Klarner2, Tomoyoshi Komiyama3 and E Paul Zehr24567*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Integrative Physiology, Kyorin University School of Medicine, 6-20-2 Shinkawa, Mitaka, Japan

2 Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Victoria, PO Box 3010 STN CSC, V8W 3P1, Victoria, BC, Canada

3 Department of Health and Sports Sciences, Faculty of Education, Chiba University, Chiba, Japan

4 Human Discovery Science, International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), Vancouver, BC, Canada

5 Centre for Biomedical Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

6 Division of Medical Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

7 School of Exercise Science, Physical, and Health Education, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-28

Published: 13 March 2013



Widespread interlimb reflexes evoked in leg muscles by cutaneous stimulation of the hand are phase-modulated and behaviorally relevant to produce functional changes in ankle trajectory during walking. These reflexes are complementary to the segmental responses evoked by stimulation at the ankle. Despite differences in the expression of reflex amplitude based upon site of nerve stimulation, there are some common features as well, suggesting the possibility of shared interneuronal pathways. Currently little is known about integration or shared reflex systems from interlimb cutaneous networks during human locomotion. Here we investigated convergent reflex effects following cutaneous stimulation of the hand and foot during arm and leg cycling (AL) by using spatial facilitation. Participants performed AL cycling and static activation of the target muscle knee extensor vastus lateralis (VL) in 3 different randomly ordered nerve stimulation conditions: 1) superficial radial nerve (SR; input from hand); 2) superficial peroneal nerve (SP; input from foot); and, 3) combined stimulation (SR + SP). Stimuli were applied around the onset of rhythmic EMG bursts in VL corresponding to the onset of the power or leg extension phase.


During AL cycling, small inhibitory (~80 ms) and large facilitatory reflexes (~100 ~ 150 ms) were seen in VL. The amplitudes of the facilitatory responses with SR + SP stimulation were significantly larger than those for SP or SR stimulation alone. The facilitation was also significantly larger than the simple mathematical summation of amplitudes from SP and SR trials. This indicates extra facilitation beyond what would be accounted for by serial neuronal processing and was not observed during static activation.


We conclude that AL cycling activates shared interneurons in convergent reflex pathways from cutaneous inputs innervating the hand and leg. This enhanced activity has functional implications for corrective responses during locomotion and for translation to rehabilitation after neurotrauma.

Reflex; Interlimb; Propriospinal; Central pattern generator; Afferent feedback; Rehabilitation; Walking; Cycling; Arm swing