A Neural Basis for Motor Primitives in the Spinal Cord
Motor primitives and modularity may be important in biological movement control. However, their neural basis is not understood. To investigate this, we recorded 302 neurons, making multielectrode recordings in the spinal cord gray of spinalized frogs, at 400, 800, and 1200 μm depth, at the L2/L3 segment border. Simultaneous muscle activity recordings were used with independent components analysis to infer premotor drive patterns. Neurons were divided into groups based on motor pattern modulation and sensory responses, depth recorded, and behavior. The 187 motor pattern modulated neurons recorded comprised 14 cutaneous neurons and 28 proprioceptive neurons at 400 μm in the dorsal horn, 131 intermediate zone interneurons from ∼800 μm depth without sensory responses, and 14 motoneuron-like neurons at ∼1200 μm. We examined all such neurons during spinal behaviors. Mutual information measures showed that cutaneous neurons and intermediate zone neurons were related better to premotor drives than to individual muscle activity. In contrast, proprioceptive-related neurons and ventral horn neurons divided evenly. For 46 of the intermediate zone interneurons, we found significant postspike facilitation effects on muscle responses using spike-triggered averages representing short-latency postspike facilitations to multiple motor pools. Furthermore, these postspike facilitations matched significantly in both their patterns and strengths with the weighting parameters of individual primitives extracted statistically, although both were initially obtained without reference to one another. Our data show that sets of dedicated interneurons may organize individual spinal primitives. These may be a key to understanding motor development, motor learning, recovery after CNS injury, and evolution of motor behaviors.