Effect of rhythmic arm movement on reflexes in the legs: modulation of soleus H-reflexes and somatosensory conditioning

J Neurophysiol. 2004 Apr;91(4):1516-23. doi: 10.1152/jn.00695.2003. Epub 2003 Dec 3.


During locomotor tasks such as walking, running, and swimming, the arms move rhythmically with the legs. It has been suggested that connections between the cervical and lumbosacral spinal cord may mediate some of this interlimb coordination. However, it is unclear how these interlimb pathways modulate reflex excitability during movement. We hypothesized that rhythmic arm movement would alter the gain of reflex pathways in the stationary leg. Soleus H-reflexes recorded during arm cycling were compared with those recorded at similar positions with the arms stationary. Nerve stimulation was delivered with the right arm at approximately 70 degrees shoulder flexion or 10 degrees shoulder extension. H-reflexes were evoked alone (unconditioned) or with sural or common peroneal nerve (CP) conditioning to decrease or increase soleus IA presynaptic inhibition, respectively. Both conditioning stimuli were also delivered with no H-reflex stimulation. H-reflex amplitudes were compared at similar M-wave amplitudes and activation levels of the soleus. Arm cycling significantly reduced (P < 0.05) unconditioned soleus H-reflexes at shoulder flexion by 21.7% and at shoulder extension by 8.8% compared with static controls. The results demonstrate a task-dependent modulation of soleus H-reflexes between arm cycling and stationary trials. Sural nerve stimulation facilitated H-reflexes at shoulder extension but not at shoulder flexion during static and cycling trials. CP nerve stimulation significantly reduced H-reflex amplitude in all conditions. Reflexes in soleus when sural and CP nerve stimulation were delivered alone, were not different between cycling and static trials; thus the task-dependent change in H reflex amplitude was not due to changes in motoneuron excitability. Therefore modulation occurred at a pre-motoneuronal level, probably by presynaptic inhibition of the IA afferent volley. Results indicate that neural networks coupling the cervical and lumbosacral spinal cord in humans are activated during rhythmic arm movement. It is proposed that activation of these networks may assist in reflex linkages between the arms and legs during locomotor tasks.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / radiation effects
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / radiation effects
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Neural Pathways
  • Periodicity*
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Shoulder
  • Sural Nerve / physiology
  • Sural Nerve / radiation effects
  • Tibial Nerve / radiation effects