Modulation of cutaneous reflexes in arm muscles during walking: further evidence of similar control mechanisms for rhythmic human arm and leg movements
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- Zehr, E.P. & Haridas, C. Exp Brain Res (2003) 149: 260. doi:10.1007/s00221-003-1377-9
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Stimulation of cutaneous nerves innervating the hand evokes prominent reflexes in many arm muscles during arm cycling. We hypothesized that the mechanisms controlling reflex modulation during the rhythmic arm swing of walking would be similar to that documented during arm cycling. Thus, we expected cutaneous reflexes to be modulated by position in the walking cycle (phase dependence) and be different when walking compared to contraction while standing (task dependence). Subjects performed static postures similar to those occurring during walking and also walked on a treadmill while the superficial radial nerve was electrically stimulated pseudorandomly throughout the step cycle. EMG was recorded bilaterally from upper limb muscles and kinematic recordings were obtained from the elbow and shoulder joints. Step cycle information was obtained from force-sensing insoles. Analysis was conducted after averaging contingent upon the occurrence of stimulation in the step cycle. Phase-dependent modulation of cutaneous reflexes at early (~50–80 ms) and middle (~80–120 ms) latencies was observed. Coordinated bilateral reflexes were seen in posterior deltoid and triceps brachii muscles. Task dependency was seen in that reflex amplitude was only correlated with background EMG during static contraction (75% of comparisons for both early and middle latency reflexes). During walking, no significant relationship between reflex amplitude and background EMG level was found. The results show that cutaneous reflex modulation during rhythmic upper limb movement is similar to that seen during arm cycling and to that observed in leg muscles during locomotion. These results add to the evidence that, during cyclical movements of the arms and legs, similar neural mechanisms observed only during movement (e.g. central pattern generators) control reflex output.