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Manuscript Submission Deadline 31 October 2023

Human movement has been optimized to Earth’s gravity (1g) and comprises a complex arrangement of sensory information, spinal and (sub)cortical integration processes, leading to motor responses in which the gravitational loading plays a crucial part. Yet, the human body is able to adapt to extreme environments ...

Human movement has been optimized to Earth’s gravity (1g) and comprises a complex arrangement of sensory information, spinal and (sub)cortical integration processes, leading to motor responses in which the gravitational loading plays a crucial part. Yet, the human body is able to adapt to extreme environments upon – and beyond – Earth’s surface. With upcoming Lunar Gateway and Artemis missions, crewmembers will be exposed to Lunar gravity (0.16g), evoking changes in physiological and sensory-motor performances which may result in a compromised functional performance affecting mission-critical tasks. Thus, increasing our understanding of the impact of partial gravity on physiological and sensory-motor performances may greatly improve training programmes aimed at preparing crew to reside and move in hypogravity.
Several methodologies can be used to simulate hypogravity here on Earth, and thus increase our understanding of the effects of partial gravity on human movement. The most accessible way to achieve extended periods of partial offloading of the lower limbs is through the use of gravity compensation devices such as vertical body weight support (BWS) devices or lower body positive pressure devices, supporting a fraction of the body weight. Gravitational offloading of the upper extremities can be achieved through the use of exoskeletons.

In turn, countering the force of gravity on the body has also shown promise as a tool to improve postural control, locomotor ability, upper limb functionality, and motor performance in general, in persons with neuromotor impairments. Next to providing a safe environment for the user, it enables individuals to start rehabilitation at an earlier stage and at a higher intensity compared to a conventional rehabilitation approach. Although the use of BWS devices and exoskeletons has shown potential in several rehabilitation settings, results on its efficacy are still ambiguous.

The use of BWS during human movement thus has the potential to reveal crucial principles and insights governing the mechanics and control of locomotion and movement in partial gravity, while also aid the development of more efficient rehabilitation protocols enhancing rehabilitation in people with neurological and musculoskeletal impairments.

Yet, currently there is a great variety of methodologies and conditions in which studies are performed. In addition, the abundance of outcomes characterising human movement complicates the comparison of results over different studies and drawing of general conclusions. Therefore, to ensure high quality and basic comparability between future studies, standardization of conditions used in hypogravity-related research, as well as determining a standard set of outcome measures to be used in future studies seems appropriate. We thus invite authors to submit original research and review articles addressing clear knowledge gaps aimed at promoting a better understanding of the adaptive changes of human movement related to partial gravity, while also aiding the standardization and improvement of BWS/exoskeleton-related research and training protocols, and reporting of data/outcomes.

All submissions to this Research Topic must have a terrestrial application or must clearly address the benefits for terrestrial rehabilitation.
We encourage interested authors to read through the introduction paper “Human movement in simulated hypogravity – Bridging the gap between space research and terrestrial rehabilitation” found in the “Articles” section for an overview on the use of BWS in both space research and terrestrial rehabilitation.

Relevant research areas include, but are not limited to:

-Improving the general understanding of biomechanical (e.g., spatiotemporal parameters, kinematics, kinetics) and neurophysiological adaptations (e.g., neuro-muscular activation, muscle-tendon unit behaviour) related to BWS during different modes of locomotion (e.g., loping, skipping, running), movement (e.g., hopping, jumping) and % of body weight unloading.
-Improving our understanding of the association between BWS-induced reductions of external loading and changes in internal forces (e.g., forces and moments experienced at the joint and muscle).
-Investigating the agreement in gait performance between BWS treadmill and overground locomotion.
-Improving our understanding of supraspinal mechanisms (e.g., assessing corticomotor excitability through fNIRS/EEG) during the use of BWS devices/upper limb exoskeletons.
-Investigating reactive balance responses following perturbations (e.g., visual perturbations, slips and trips) during locomotion with BWS.
-Explore the efficacy and dose-response relationship of the use of BWS devices/upper limb exoskeletons in patients with neuromuscular deficits and other disorders.

Keywords: Neurorehabilitation, robotics, virtual reality, exoskeletons, priming techniques, augmented techniques, new treatment modality, new approaches for neurorehabilitation, neurology, sensory-motor integration, recovery prediction

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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