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The neural locomotor system strongly relies on spinal circuitries. Yet, the control of bipedal gait is accompanied by activity in motor cortex. In human gait control, the functional interaction between these cortical contributions and their spinal counterparts are largely elusive. We focused on four spinal activation patterns during walking and explored their cortical signatures in toddlers and adults. In both groups, cortico-spinal coherence analysis revealed activity in primary motor cortex to be closely related to two of the four spinal patterns. Their corresponding muscle synergies are known to develop around the onset of independent walking. By hypothesis, the cortex hence contributes to the emergence of these synergies. In contrast, the other two spinal patterns investigated here resembled those present during newborn stepping. As expected, they did not show any cortical involvement. Together, our findings suggest a crucial role of motor cortex for independent walking in humans.

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Behavioral neuroscience, Biological sciences, Neuroscience