Human muscle spindle response in a motor learning task

J Physiol. 1990 Feb;421:553-68. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1990.sp017961.


1. Impulse discharge of single muscle spindle afferents from the finger extensor muscles was recorded in the radial nerve of conscious human subjects, during a motor learning task engaging the metacarpo-phalangeal joint of a single finger, using the microneurography technique. 2. Subjects were requested first to pay attention to a complex sequence of imposed single joint movements, and immediately afterwards to reproduce actively the same sequence. No external load was added to the finger and visual control was denied altogether so that subjects relied on mechanoreceptor input exclusively for the sampling and reproduction of movement. In addition, sequences of imposed movements were delivered while subjects were not attending in order to allow analysis of the attention effect. 3. The response of the individual unit was uniform in repeated tests. There were clear differences between spindle firing rate in imposed and actively reproduced movements with most units. However, the difference was complex during the individual sequence, in that firing rate was usually higher during periods of reproduced movements when the muscle was relatively short whereas it was identical when the muscle was relatively long. 4. The hypothesis that reproduction and verification of an imposed movement may be based on simple matching between identical spindle firing in imposed and active movements, was difficult to reject altogether because identical spindle input was present during considerable sections of the movement sequence. It may be speculated that agonists and antagonists cover different ranges of joint excursion, with identical spindle firing rates in imposed and reproduced movements. 5. Attention to imposed movements was associated with a minute and inconsistent increase of spindle firing rate in some afferents and then usually with a slight increase of EMG activity of the parent muscle as well. 6. It was concluded that focusing attention on the kinaesthetic input during imposed movement was not associated with a consistent increase of fusimotor drive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Radial Nerve / physiology
  • Time Factors