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Babies’ Inborn Instinct for Walking Could Help Cerebral Palsy Patients Recover

Jul 06, 2016 07:17 AM EDT

Babies are born with the natural instinct for walking, and this discovery may provide cure to children with cerebral palsy, scientists said.

According to scientists, babies are born with the primitive stepping instinct even before they learn how to stand. It would only take time for infants to figure out the right neural wiring to be able to walk normally, researchers said.

When infants are put on the floor, their legs will make stepping gestures as if they are walking. This natural reflex is the foundation on which children develop an independent walking motion.

"We look at the emergence of walking behaviors in both human babies and infant animals, as they develop," Nadia Dominici of VU University in Netherlands and leader of the research team said in a press release.

"We are showing that humans and other terrestrial animals learn how to walk in surprisingly similar ways," she added.

According to the researchers, movements such as walking are created from the flexible locomotion of a small set of groups of muscles that simplify the control of locomotion, which is called the locomotor primitives.

"We found that human babies are born with just two walking primitives: the first directs the legs to bend and extend; the second commands the baby's legs to alternate -- left, right, left, right -- in order to move forward.

"To walk independently, babies learn two more primitives, which we believe handle balance control, step timing and weight shifting," Dr. Dominici said.

The researchers also discovered that these basic primitives are also present in a number of different animal species, including rats, despite the differences in body structure and evolution, and could likely come from a common ancestral neural network.

According to the researchers, this knowledge could provide valuable insights in helping patients with walking disabilities recover their mobility. After getting positive results in rehabilitating injured rats, the researchers are now studying how to apply this method to children with cerebral palsy and adults with spinal cord injuries.

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