Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 157, Issue 3, pp 359–368 | Cite as

“Proprioceptive signature” of cursive writing in humans: a multi-population coding

  • Jean-Pierre Roll
  • Frédéric Albert
  • Edith Ribot-Ciscar
  • Mikael Bergenheim
Research Article


The goal of the present study was to investigate the firing behavior of populations of muscle spindle afferents in all the muscles acting on the ankle while this joint was being subjected to “writing-like” movements. First it was proposed to determine whether the ensemble of muscle spindles give rise to a unique, specific, and reproducible feedback information characterizing each letter, number or short word. Secondly, we analyzed how the proprioceptive feedback on the whole encodes the spatial and temporal characteristics of writing movements using the “vector population model”. The unitary activity of 51 primary and secondary muscle spindle afferents was recorded in the tibial and common peroneal nerves at the level of the popliteal fossea, using the microneurographic method. The units recorded from belonged to the tibialis anterior, the extensor digitorum longus, the extensor hallucis longus, the peroneus lateralis, the gastrocnemius-soleus and the tibialis posterior muscles. The “writing-like” movements were randomly imposed at a “natural” velocity via a computer-controlled machine in a two-dimensional space. In general, muscle spindle afferents from any of the six muscles responded according to the tuning properties of the parent muscle, i.e. increasing their discharge rate during the phases where the direction of movement was within the preferred sensory sector of the parent muscle. The whole trajectory of the writing movements was coded in turn by the activity of Ia afferents arising from all the muscles acting on the joint. Both single afferent responses and population responses were found to be highly specific and reproducible with each graphic sign. The complex multi-muscle afferent pattern involved, with its timing and distribution in the muscle space, seems to constitute a true “proprioceptive signature” for each graphic symbol. The ensemble of muscle spindle afferents were therefore found to encode the instantaneous direction and velocity of writing movements remarkably accurately. It was concluded that the proprioceptive feedback from all the muscles with which the moving joint is equipped provides the CNS with highly specific information that might contribute to a graphic sign identification process.


Muscle spindle afferents Microneurography Ensemble coding “Vector population model” Writing movements 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Pierre Roll
    • 1
    • 3
  • Frédéric Albert
    • 1
  • Edith Ribot-Ciscar
    • 1
  • Mikael Bergenheim
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Neurobiologie HumaineUMR 6149 Université de Provence/CNRSMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Center for Muskculoskeletal ResearchUniversity of GävleUmeaSweden
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Humaine, UMR 6149Université de Provence/CNRSMarseille Cedex 20France

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