Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 197–204 | Cite as

Habituation and conditioning of the human long latency stretch reflex

  • J. C. Rothwell
  • B. L. Day
  • A. Berardelli
  • C. D. Marsden
Regular Papers


The effects of stretch repetition rate, prior warning stimuli and self administered stretch were examined on the size of the short and long latency components of the stretch reflex electromyographic EMG response in flexor pollicis longus and the flexor muscles of the wrist and fingers. Stretches of constant velocity and extent were given every 10 s, 5 s, 2 s, or 1 s to either the wrist or thumb during a small background contraction of the flexor muscles. The size of the long latency component of the stretch reflex (measured as the area under the averaged rectified EMG responses) declined dramatically at faster repetition rates, especially in the wrist and finger flexors. The size of the short latency component was relatively unaffected. The size of the electrically elicited H-reflex in forearm muscles also failed to habituate under the same conditions. If each individual trial of a series was examined, the long latency component of the stretch reflex EMG could be seen to decrease in size over the first three to six stretches if stretches were given every 1 s, but not if stretches were given every 10 s. When stretches were given every 5 s to either wrist or thumb, an electrical stimulus applied to the digital nerves of the opposite hand 1 s before stretch reduced the size of the long latency component of the reflex EMG response. The short latency component was unaffected. Self triggering of wrist or thumb stretch by the subject pressing the stimulator button himself with his opposite hand, also decreased the size of the long latency component of the reflex EMG response without affecting the short latency component. It is concluded that factors other than stretch size or velocity can have marked effects on the size of the long latency component of the stretch reflex. These factors must be taken into account when comparing values of reflex size obtained with different stretching techniques and in different disease states in man.

Key words

Stretch reflex Habituation Human 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Berardelli A, Day BL, Marsden CD, Rothwell JC (1985) Habituation of the human long-latency stretch reflex. J Physiol 362: 27PGoogle Scholar
  2. Berardelli A, Sabra A, Hallett M (1983) Physiological mechanisms of rigidity in Parkinson's disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiat 46: 45–53Google Scholar
  3. Boulu P, Willer JC, Cambier J (1981) Analyse electrophysiologique du reflex clignement chez l'homme. Rev Neurol 137: 523–533Google Scholar
  4. Brown TIH, Rack PMH, Ross HF (1982) A range of different stretch reflex responses in the human thumb. J Physiol 332: 101–112Google Scholar
  5. Calancie B, Bawa P (1984) Recruitment order of motor units during the stretch reflex in man. Brain Res 192: 176–178Google Scholar
  6. Caraceni T, Avanzini G, Spreafico R, Negri S, Broggi G, Girotti F (1976) Study of the excitability cycle of the blink reflex in Huntington's chorea. Eur Neurol 14: 465–472Google Scholar
  7. Day BL, Marsden CD, Obeso JA, Rothwell JC (1984) Reciprocal inhibition between the muscles of the human forearm. J Physiol 349: 519–534Google Scholar
  8. Desmedt JE (ed) (1978) Progress in clinical neurophysiology, Vol 4. Cerebral motor control in man: long loop mechanisms. Karger, BaselGoogle Scholar
  9. Ferguson IT, Lenman JAR, Johnston BB (1978) Habituation of the orbicular oculi reflex in dementia and dyskinetic states. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiat 41: 824–828Google Scholar
  10. Hagbarth KE, Hagluund JV, Wallin EV, Young RR (1981) Grouped spindle and electromyographic responses to abrupt wrist extension movements in man. J Physiol 312: 81–96Google Scholar
  11. Hendrie A, Lee RG (1978) Selective effects of vibration on human spinal and long-loop reflexes. Brain Res 104: 149–166Google Scholar
  12. Hoehler FK, McCann MA, Bernick DL (1981) Habituation of the Huffman reflex. Brain Res 220: 299–307Google Scholar
  13. Hultborn H, Wigstrom H (1980) Motor response with long latency and maintained duration evoked by activity in Ia afferents. In: Desmedt JE (ed) Progress in clinical neurophysiology, Vol. 8. Karger, Basel, pp 99–116Google Scholar
  14. Johnson SW, Lynn PA, Reed GAL, Miller JSG (1981) Identification of the stretch reflex using pseudorandom excitation: electromyographic response to displacement of the human forearm. Med Biol Eng Comput 19: 195–207Google Scholar
  15. Kimura J (1973) Disorders of interneurones in parkinsonism. The orbicularis oculi reflex to paired stimuli. Brain 96: 87–96Google Scholar
  16. Kugelberg E (1952) Facial reflexes. Brain 75: 385–396Google Scholar
  17. Lee, TG, Tatton WG (1975) Motor responses to sudden limb displacements in primates with specific CNS lesions and in human patients with motor system disorders. Can J Neurol Sci 2: 285–293Google Scholar
  18. Marsden CD, Merton PA, Morton HB (1976) Servo action in the human thumb. J Physiol 257: 1–44Google Scholar
  19. Marsden CD, Rothwell JC, Day BL (1983) Long-latency automatic responses to muscle stretch in man: origin and function. In: Desmedt JE (ed) Motor control mechanisms in health and disease. Raven Press, New York, pp 509–539Google Scholar
  20. Matthews PBC (1984) Evidence from the use of vibration that the human long-latency stretch reflex depends upon spindle secondary afferents. J Physiol 348: 383–415PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Nashner LM (1976) Adapting reflexes controlling the human posture. Exp Brain Res 26: 59–72Google Scholar
  22. Noth J, Friedmann HH, Podoll K, Lange HW (1983) Absence of long latency reflexes to imposed finger displacements in patients with Huntington's disease. Neurosci Lett 35: 97–100Google Scholar
  23. Penders CA, Delwaide PJ (1971) Blink reflex studies in patients with Parkinsonism before and during therapy. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiat 34: 674–678Google Scholar
  24. Rothwell JC, Traub MM, Marsden CD (1980) Influence of voluntary intent on the human long latency stretch reflex. Nature 286: 496–498Google Scholar
  25. Sanes JN, Ison JR (1983) Habituation and sensitisation of components of the human eyeblink reflex. Behav Neurosci 97: 833–836Google Scholar
  26. Shahani BT, Young R (1971) Human flexor reflexes. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiat 34: 616–677Google Scholar
  27. Soechting JF, Dufresne JR, Lacquaniti F (1981) Time-varying properties of myotatic response in man during some simple motor tasks. J Neurophysiol 46: 1226–1243Google Scholar
  28. Tatton WG, Bedingham W, Verrier MC, Blair RDG (1984) Characteristic alterations in responses to imposed wrist displacements in Parkinsonian rigidity and dystonia musculorum deformans. Can J Neurol Sci 11: 281–287Google Scholar
  29. Young RR (1973) The clinical significance of exteroceptive reflexes. In: Desmedt JE (ed) New developments in electromyography and clinical neurophysiology, Vol. 3. Karger, Basel, pp 697–712Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. C. Rothwell
    • 1
  • B. L. Day
    • 1
  • A. Berardelli
    • 1
  • C. D. Marsden
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeurologyInstitute of Psychiatry and King's College Hospital Medical SchoolLondonUK

Personalised recommendations