Human Locomotor Circuits Conform

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Science  18 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6058, pp. 912-913
DOI: 10.1126/science.1214778

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We tend to consider our species in a different league from that of our relatives in the animal kingdom. The last few decades have been humbling in that respect. Not only is our genome 99% similar to that of apes, but we share many genes with fruit flies and yeast cells. Admittedly, humans excel in cognitive abilities and in skilled movements like writing or talking. But when it comes to the basic motor repertoire such as walking, posture, or orienting movements, the situation is different; cheetahs, for instance, run faster, as do bipedal ostriches. Animals like horses and antelopes locomote shortly after birth, whereas humans can walk without support after about 1 year after birth. This has in many circles been taken to indicate that the neural control of human bipedal walking is fundamentally different from that of quadruped mammals, and requires the development of new neural circuits during the year following birth. However, on page 997 of this issue, Dominici et al. (1) show that the locomotor system of humans and that of other mammals and birds evolved from similar circuitry.