When humans perform rhythmic upper and lower limb locomotor-like movements, there is an excitatory effect of upper limb exertion on lower limb muscle recruitment. To investigate potential neural mechanisms for this behavioral observation, we developed computer simulations modeling interlimb neural pathways among central pattern generators. We hypothesized that enhancement of muscle recruitment from interlimb spinal mechanisms was not sufficient to explain muscle enhancement levels observed in experimental data.We used Matsuoka oscillators for the central pattern generators (CPG) and determined parameters that enhanced amplitudes of rhythmic steady state bursts. Potential mechanisms for output enhancement were excitatory and inhibitory sensory feedback gains, excitatory and inhibitory interlimb coupling gains, and coupling geometry. We first simulated the simplest case, a single CPG, and then expanded the model to have two CPGs and lastly four CPGs. In the two and four CPG models, the lower limb CPGs did not receive supraspinal input such that the only mechanisms available for enhancing output were interlimb coupling gains and sensory feedback gains.
In a two-CPG model with inhibitory sensory feedback gains, only excitatory gains of ipsilateral flexor-extensor/extensor-flexor coupling produced reciprocal upper-lower limb bursts and enhanced output up to 26%. In a two-CPG model with excitatory sensory feedback gains, excitatory gains of contralateral flexor-flexor/extensor-extensor coupling produced reciprocal upper-lower limb bursts and enhanced output up to 100%. However, within a given excitatory sensory feedback gain, enhancement due to excitatory interlimb gains could only reach levels up to 20%. Interconnecting four CPGs to have ipsilateral flexor-extensor/extensor-flexor coupling, contralateral flexor-flexor/extensor-extensor coupling, and bilateral flexor-extensor/extensor-flexor coupling could enhance motor output up to 32%. Enhancement observed in experimental data exceeded 32%. Enhancement within this symmetrical four-CPG neural architecture was more sensitive to relatively small interlimb coupling gains. Excitatory sensory feedback gains could produce greater output amplitudes, but larger gains were required for entrainment compared to inhibitory sensory feedback gains.
Based on these simulations, symmetrical interlimb coupling can account for much, but not all of the excitatory neural coupling between upper and lower limbs during rhythmic locomotor-like movements.