How does the motor system correct for errors in time and space during locomotor adaptation?

Laura A. Malone, Amy J. Bastian, Gelsy Torres-Oviedo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Walking is a complex behavior for which the healthy nervous system favors a smooth, symmetric pattern. However, people often adopt an asymmetric walking pattern after neural or biomechanical damage (i.e., they limp). To better understand this aberrant motor pattern and how to change it, we studied walking adaptation to a split-belt perturbation where one leg is driven to move faster than the other. Initially, healthy adult subjects take asymmetric steps on the split-belt treadmill, but within 10-15 min people adapt to reestablish walking symmetry. Which of the many walking parameters does the nervous system change to restore symmetry during this complex act (i.e., what motor mappings are adapted to restore symmetric walking in this asymmetric environment)? Here we found two parameters that met our criteria for adaptive learning: a temporal motor output consisting of the duration between heel-strikes of the two legs (i.e., "when" the feet land) and a spatial motor output related to the landing position of each foot relative to one another (i.e., "where" the feet land). We found that when subjects walk in an asymmetric environment they smoothly change their temporal and spatial motor outputs to restore temporal and spatial symmetry in the interlimb coordination of their gait. These changes in motor outputs are stored and have to be actively deadapted. Importantly, the adaptation of temporal and spatial motor outputs is dissociable since subjects were able to adapt their temporal motor output without adapting the spatial output. Taken together, our results suggest that temporal and spatial control for symmetric gait can be adapted separately, and therefore we could potentially develop interventions targeting either temporal or spatial walking deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)672-683
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2012


  • Human locomotion
  • Kinematics
  • Motor control
  • Motor learning
  • Walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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