The long-latency reflex is composed of at least two functionally independent processes

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):449-59. doi: 10.1152/jn.01052.2010. Epub 2011 May 4.


The nervous system counters mechanical perturbations applied to the arm with a stereotypical sequence of muscle activity, starting with the short-latency stretch reflex and ending with a voluntary response. Occurring between these two events is the enigmatic long-latency reflex. Although researchers have been fascinated by the long-latency reflex for over 60 years, some of the most basic questions about this response remain unresolved and often debated. In the present study we help resolve one such question by providing clear evidence that the human long-latency reflex during a naturalistic motor task is not a single functional response; rather, it appears to reflect the output of (at least) two functionally independent processes that overlap in time and sum linearly. One of these functional components shares an important attribute of the short-latency reflex (i.e., automatic gain scaling, sensitivity to background load), and the other shares a defining feature of voluntary control (i.e., task dependency, sensitivity to goal target position). We further show that the task-dependent component of long-latency activity reflects a feedback control process rather than the simplest triggered reaction to a mechanical stimulus.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Feedback, Physiological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Reaction Time*
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Upper Extremity / physiology
  • Young Adult