Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 238, Issue 1, pp 121–138 | Cite as

Muscle activities in similar arms performing identical tasks reveal the neural basis of muscle synergies

  • Laura Pellegrino
  • Martina Coscia
  • Maura CasadioEmail author
Research Article


Are the muscle synergies extracted from multiple electromyographic signals an expression of neural information processing, or rather a by-product of mechanical and task constraints? To address this question, we asked 41 right-handed adults to perform a variety of motor tasks with their left and right arms. The analysis of the muscle activities resulted in the identification of synergies whose activation was different for the two sides. In particular, tasks involving the control of isometric forces resulted in larger differences. As the two arms essentially have identical biomechanical structure, we concluded that the differences observed in the activation of the respective synergies must be attributed to neural control.


Upper limb Robotic evaluation Reaching Electromyography 



The authors are grateful to all participants of the study for volunteering their time. We want to thank Giorgia Stranieri, Amel Chief and Maddalena Mugnosso for the help during the experimental sessions, Dr. Susanna Summa and Dr. Camilla Pierella for helpful suggestions, Prof. Ferdinando Mussa-Ivaldi for his advice and critical review of the manuscript, Prof. Niels Birbaumer for his further revision of the manuscript, and Brenda Klem for proofreading the manuscript.

Author contributions

All the authors conceived the study, designed the experimental protocol and developed the experimental setup. LP collected the data. All authors analyzed the results, contributed to the discussion of the results and to writing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported by Italian Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (FISM, 2013- Cod. 2013/R/5) and by Marie Curie Integration Grant FP7-PEOPLE- 2012-CIG- 334201 (REMAKE) Research projects of national interest (ModuLimb, PRIN-2015HFWRYY).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declared no potential conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Supplementary material

221_2019_5679_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1743 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Informatics, Bioengineering, Robotics and Systems EngineeringUniversity of GenoaGenoaItaly
  2. 2.Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational NeuroengineeringEcole Polytechnique Federale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.Wyss Center for Bio- and NeuroengineeringGenevaSwitzerland

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