Interaction of pre-programmed control and natural stretch reflexes in human landing movements

J Physiol. 2002 Nov 1;544(3):985-94. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2002.024844.

Abstract

Pre-programmed mechanisms of motor control are known to influence the gain of artificially evoked stretch reflexes. However, their interaction with stretch reflexes evoked in the context of unimpeded natural movement is not understood. We used a landing movement, for which a stretch reflex is an integral part of the natural action, to test the hypothesis that unpredicted motor events increase stretch reflex gain. The unpredicted event occurred when a false floor, perceived to be solid, collapsed easily on impact, allowing the subjects to descend for a further 85 ms to a solid floor below. Spinal stretch reflexes were measured following solid floor contact. When subjects passed through the false floor en route to the solid floor, the amplitude of the EMG reflex activity was double that found in direct falls. This was not due to differences in joint rotations between these conditions. Descending pathways can modify H- and stretch-reflex gain in man. We therefore manipulated the time between the false and real floor contacts and hence the time available for transmission along these pathways. With 30 ms between floors, the enhancement of the reflex was extinguished, whereas with 50 ms between floors it reappeared. This excluded several mechanisms from being responsible for the doubling of the reflex EMG amplitude. It is argued that the enhanced response is due to the modulation of reflex gain at the spinal level by signals in descending pathways triggered by the false platform. The results suggest the future hypothesis that this trigger could be the absence of afferent signals expected at the time of false floor impact and that salient error signals produced from a comparison of expected and actual sensory events may be used to reset reflex gains.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*
  • Spine
  • Time Factors