Sensorimotor adaptation of locomotor synergies to gravitational constraint

Etienne Guillaud, Vincent Leconte, Emilie Doat, Dominique Guehl, Jean-René Cazalets
npj Microgravity. 2024-01-11; 10(1):
DOI: 10.1038/s41526-024-00350-2

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This study investigates the impact of gravity on lower limb muscle coordination during pedaling. It explores how pedaling behaviors, kinematics, and muscle activation patterns dynamically adapts to changes in gravity and resistance levels. The experiment was conducted in parabolic flights, simulating microgravity, hypergravity (1.8 g), and normogravity conditions. Participants pedaled on an ergometer with varying resistances. The goal was to identify potential changes in muscle synergies and activation strategies under different gravitational contexts. Results indicate that pedaling cadence adjusted naturally in response to both gravity and resistance changes. Cadence increased with higher gravity and decreased with higher resistance levels. Muscular activities were characterized by two synergies representing pull and push phases of pedaling. The timing of synergy activation was influenced by gravity, with a delay in activation observed in microgravity compared to other conditions. Despite these changes, the velocity profile of pedaling remained stable across gravity conditions. The findings strongly suggest that the CNS dynamically manages the shift in body weight by finely tuning muscular coordination, thereby ensuring the maintenance of a stable motor output. Furthermore, electromyography analysis suggest that neuromuscular discharge frequencies were not affected by gravity changes. This implies that the types of muscle fibers recruited during exercise in modified gravity are similar to those used in normogravity. This research has contributed to a better understanding of how the human locomotor system responds to varying gravitational conditions, shedding light on the potential mechanisms underlying astronauts’ gait changes upon returning from space missions.

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