Motivated by the challenge of improving neuroprosthetic devices, the authors review current knowledge relating to harnessing the potential of spinal neural circuits, such as reflexes and pattern generators. If such spinal interneuronal circuits could be activated, they could provide the coordinated control of many muscles that is so complex to implement with a device that aims to address each participating muscle individually. The authors' goal is to identify candidate spinal circuits and areas of research that might open opportunities to effect control of human limbs through electrical activation of such circuits. David McCrea's discussion of the ways in which hindlimb reflexes in the cat modify motor activity may help in developing optimal strategies for functional neuromuscular stimulation (FNS), by using knowledge of how reflex actions can adapt to different conditions. Michael O'Donovan's discussion of the development of rhythmogenic networks in the chick embryo may provide clues to methods of generating rhythmic activity in the adult spinal cord. Serge Rossignol examines the spinal pattern generator for locomotion in cats, its trigger mechanisms, modulation and adaptation, and suggests how this knowledge can help guide therapeutic approaches in humans. Hugues Barbeau applies the work of Rossignol and others to locomotor training in human subjects who have suffered spinal cord injury (SCI) with incomplete motor function loss (IMFL). Michel Lemay and Warren Grill discuss some of the technical challenges that must be addressed by engineers to implement a neuroprosthesis using electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, particularly the control issues that would have to be resolved.
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