Muscle spindle discharge during active movement is a function of mechanical and neural parameters. Muscle length changes (and their derivatives) represent its primary mechanical, fusimotor drive its neural component. However, neither the action nor the function of fusimotor and in particular of γ-drive, have been clearly established, since γ-motor activity during voluntary, non-locomotor movements remains largely unknown. Here, using a computational approach, we explored whether γ-drive emerges in an artificial neural network model of the corticospinal system linked to a biomechanical antagonist wrist simulator. The wrist simulator included length-sensitive and γ-drive-dependent type Ia and type II muscle spindle activity. Network activity and connectivity were derived by a gradient descent algorithm to generate reciprocal, known target α-motor unit activity during wrist flexion-extension (F/E) movements. Two tasks were simulated: an alternating F/E task and a slow F/E tracking task. Emergence of γ-motor activity in the alternating F/E network was a function of α-motor unit drive: if muscle afferent (together with supraspinal) input was required for driving α-motor units, then γ-drive emerged in the form of α-γ coactivation, as predicted by empirical studies. In the slow F/E tracking network, γ-drive emerged in the form of α-γ dissociation and provided critical, bidirectional muscle afferent activity to the cortical network, containing known bidirectional target units. The model thus demonstrates the complementary aspects of spindle output and hence γ-drive: i) muscle spindle activity as a driving force of α-motor unit activity, and ii) afferent activity providing continuous sensory information, both of which crucially depend on γ-drive.
Keywords: Artificial neural network; Corticospinal system; Fusimotor system; Muscle spindle; Musculo-tendon model; Wrist movement.