William Paganini Mayer and Turgay Akay
The ability to walk around in a natural environment requires the capacity to cope with unexpected obstacles that may disrupt locomotion. One such mechanism is called the stumbling corrective reaction (SCR) that enables animals to step over obstacles that would otherwise disturb the progression of swing movement. Here we use in vivo motion analysis and physiological recording techniques to describe the SCR in mice. We show that SCR can be elicited consistently in mice during locomotion by inserting an obstacle along the path of leg movement during swing phase. Furthermore, we show that the same behavior can be elicited if the saphenous nerve, a cutaneous nerve that would detect contact of the leg with an object, is stimulated electrically. This suggests that cutaneous afferent feedback is sufficient to elicit SCR. We further show that the SCR is phase dependent, occurring only with stimulation during swing phase, but not during early stance. During SCR elicited by either method, the foot is lifted higher to clear the object by flexing the knee, via the semitendinosus muscle, and ankle joint, by tibialis anterior contraction. The tibialis anterior also exhibits a brief extension before flexion onset. Our data provide a detailed description of SCR in mice and will be crucial for future research that aims to identify the interneurons of the premotor network controlling SCR and its neuronal mechanisms by combining motion analysis, electrophysiology and mouse genetics.