Locomotion in different directions is vital for animal life and requires fine-adjusted neural activity of spinal networks. To compare the levels of recruitability of the locomotor circuitry responsible for forward and backward stepping, several electromyographic and kinematic characteristics of the two locomotor modes were analysed in decerebrated cats. Electrical epidural spinal cord stimulation was used to evoke forward and backward locomotion on a treadmill belt. The functional state of the bilateral spinal networks was tuned by symmetrical and asymmetrical epidural stimulation. A significant deficit in the backward but not forward stepping was observed when laterally shifted epidural stimulation was used but was not observed with central stimulation: only half of the cats were able to perform bilateral stepping, but all the cats performed forward stepping. This difference was in accordance with the features of stepping during central epidural stimulation. Both the recruitability and stability of the EMG signals as well as inter-limb coordination during backward stepping were significantly decreased compared with those during forward stepping. The possible underlying neural mechanisms of the obtained functional differences of backward and forward locomotion (spinal network organisation, commissural communication and supraspinal influence) are discussed.

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