The structure of skilled forelimb reaching in the rat: a proximally driven movement with a single distal rotatory component

Behav Brain Res. 1990 Dec 7;41(1):49-59. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(90)90053-h.


The movements of rats trained to reach through an aperture for food pellets, located on a shelf, were videorecorded and filmed from lateral and ventral perspectives for analysis using Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN). Reaching was subdivided into phases of locating the food and advancing the limb to grasp the food, bringing the food to the mouth, and returning to the starting position. Further analysis of the movements comprising these acts revealed a number of novel findings. (1) Most of the first phase of the movement is produced proximally, with the limb lifted, aimed, and advanced from the shoulder. (2) After the limb is lifted from the substrate to initiate reaching, it is carried to a parasagittal position so that the long axis of the forearm is aligned along the midline of the body. This aspect of the movement 'aims' the limb toward the target. (3) The digits are opened as the limb is advanced from the aiming position toward the food. As the paw approaches the food, pronation of the palm is accomplished by abduction of the upper arm. (4) As the limb is retracted, the digits are closed to grasp the food. As retraction ends, the paw is supinated by a rotatory movement at the wrist. This is the only distal rotatory movement. (5) The position taken by the second forelimb, as it is adducted to aid in holding the food pellet for eating, resembles the 'aiming' posture. The results are discussed in reference to the kinematics, neural control, and the evolutionary origins of reaching in the rat and other animals. Additionally, the results provide a framework for analysis of changes in movements produced by physiological manipulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology
  • Videotape Recording / instrumentation