Asymmetric Walkway: A Novel Behavioral Assay for Studying Asymmetric Locomotion

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Behavioral assays are commonly used for the assessment of sensorimotor impairment in the central nervous system (CNS). The most sophisticated methods for quantifying locomotor deficits in rodents is to measure minute disturbances of unconstrained gait overground (e.g., manual BBB score or automated CatWalk). However, cortical inputs are not required for the generation of basic locomotion produced by the spinal central pattern generator (CPG). Thus, unconstrained walking tasks test locomotor deficits due to motor cortical impairment only indirectly. In this study, we propose a novel, precise foot-placement locomotor task that evaluates cortical inputs to the spinal CPG. An instrumented peg-way was used to impose symmetrical and asymmetrical locomotor tasks mimicking lateralized movement deficits. We demonstrate that shifts from equidistant inter-stride lengths of 20% produce changes in the forelimb stance phase characteristics during locomotion with preferred stride length. Furthermore, we propose that the asymmetric walkway allows for measurements of behavioral outcomes produced by cortical control signals. These measures are relevant for the assessment of impairment after cortical damage.