The effect of light touch on the amplitude of cutaneous reflexes in the arms during treadmill walking
Light touch contact of the tip of one finger can influence the postural control of subjects standing or walking on a treadmill. It is suggested that haptic cues from the finger provide an important sensory cue for the control of posture. In the current study, we used intra-limb cutaneous reflexes in the arms to test the hypothesis that transmission in sensory pathways relevant to the light touch contact would be modulated when light touch is used to increase stability during walking in an unstable environment. Subjects walked on a treadmill and received periodic pulls to the waist. Cutaneous reflexes were evoked from stimulation of the median and radial nerves while the subjects either (a) lightly touched or (b) did not touch a stable contact with the tip of their index finger, while the eyes were either (c) open or (d) closed. The results showed that cutaneous reflexes were modulated by both touch and vision. The effect of touch depended on the nerve being stimulated. The provision of touch in the absence of vision resulted in facilitation of median nerve reflexes evoked in the posterior deltoid and the triceps brachii, but resulted in the suppression of radial nerve reflexes. The nerve-specific influence of touch observed in the responses suggests that cutaneous afferent pathways are facilitated in the presence of touch if they transport sensory information from functionally relevant sensory cues.
KeywordsLight touch Cutaneous reflexes Locomotion Human
This work was supported by a Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to J.E. Misiaszek.
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