Muscle synergy patterns as physiological markers of motor cortical damage

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 4;109(36):14652-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212056109. Epub 2012 Aug 20.


The experimental findings herein reported are aimed at gaining a perspective on the complex neural events that follow lesions of the motor cortical areas. Cortical damage, whether by trauma or stroke, interferes with the flow of descending signals to the modular interneuronal structures of the spinal cord. These spinal modules subserve normal motor behaviors by activating groups of muscles as individual units (muscle synergies). Damage to the motor cortical areas disrupts the orchestration of the modules, resulting in abnormal movements. To gain insights into this complex process, we recorded myoelectric signals from multiple upper-limb muscles in subjects with cortical lesions. We used a factorization algorithm to identify the muscle synergies. Our factorization analysis revealed, in a quantitative way, three distinct patterns of muscle coordination-including preservation, merging, and fractionation of muscle synergies-that reflect the multiple neural responses that occur after cortical damage. These patterns varied as a function of both the severity of functional impairment and the temporal distance from stroke onset. We think these muscle-synergy patterns can be used as physiological markers of the status of any patient with stroke or trauma, thereby guiding the development of different rehabilitation approaches, as well as future physiological experiments for a further understanding of postinjury mechanisms of motor control and recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arm / physiopathology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Stroke / complications*


  • Biomarkers