Objective: Anticipatory grip force adjustments to movement-induced load fluctuations of a hand-held object suggest that motion planning is based on an internal forward model of both the external object properties and the dynamics of the own motor apparatus. However, the central nervous system also refers to real time sensory feedback from the grasping digits in order to achieve a highly economical coupling between grip force and the actual loading requirements.
Methods: We analyzed grip force control during vertical point-to-point arm movements with a hand-held instrumented object in 9 patients with moderately impaired tactile sensibility of the grasping digits due to chronic median nerve compression (n = 3), axonal (n = 3) and demyelinating sensory polyneuropathy (n = 3) in comparison to 9 healthy age- and sex-matched control subjects. Point-to-point arm movements started and ended with the object being held stationary at rest. Load force changes arose from inertial loads related to the movement. A maximum of load force occurred early in upward and near the end of downward movements.
Results: Compared to healthy controls, patients with impaired manual sensibility generated similar static grip forces during stationary holding of the object and similar force ratios between maximum grip and load force. These findings reflect effective grip force scaling in relation to the movement-induced loads despite reduced afferent feedback from the grasping digits. For both groups the maxima of grip and load force coincided very closely in time, indicating that the temporal regulation of the grip force profile with the load profile was processed with a similar high precision. In addition, linear regression analyses between grip and load forces during movement-related load increase and load decrease phases revealed a similar precise temporo-spatial coupling between grip and load forces for patients and controls.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the precise and anticipatory adjustment of the grip force profile to the load force profile arising from voluntary arm movements with a hand-held object is centrally mediated and less under sensory feedback control. As suggested by previous investigations, the efficient scaling of the grip force magnitude in relation to the movement-induced loads may be intact when deficits of tactile sensibility from the grasping fingers are moderate.