Central nervous system (CNS) disorders distinctly impair locomotor pattern generation and balance, but technical limitations prevent independent assessment and rehabilitation of these subfunctions. Here we introduce a versatile robotic interface to evaluate, enable and train pattern generation and balance independently during natural walking behaviors in rats. In evaluation mode, the robotic interface affords detailed assessments of pattern generation and dynamic equilibrium after spinal cord injury (SCI) and stroke. In enabling mode, the robot acts as a propulsive or postural neuroprosthesis that instantly promotes unexpected locomotor capacities including overground walking after complete SCI, stair climbing following partial SCI and precise paw placement shortly after stroke. In training mode, robot-enabled rehabilitation, epidural electrical stimulation and monoamine agonists reestablish weight-supported locomotion, coordinated steering and balance in rats with a paralyzing SCI. This new robotic technology and associated concepts have broad implications for both assessing and restoring motor functions after CNS disorders, both in animals and in humans. © 2012 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.
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