The organization of heterogenic reflexes among muscles crossing the ankle joint in the decerebrate cat

J Physiol. 1989 Mar;410:463-77. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1989.sp017544.


1. Mechanical actions of heterogenic (intermuscular) reflexes arising from proprioceptors in flexor and extensor ankle muscles were measured in intercollicular and premammillary decerebrate cats. Length inputs were applied to the freed tendons of one of a pair of muscles crossing the ankle joint and resulting changes in force in both muscles were measured. Interactions between autogenic and heterogenic reflexes were studied by applying length changes to both muscles. 2. A consistent asymmetry was observed in the heterogenic inhibition between the single-joint antagonists soleus and tibialis anterior (TA). Inhibition from soleus to TA was weak or absent during the reflex activation of TA. In contrast, a strong heterogenic inhibition was consistently observed from TA to soleus during the activation of soleus by a crossed-extension reflex. The effect of this inhibition in the intact joint is to increase the apparent mechanical stiffness of soleus. 3. Mutual synergism among soleus, medial gastrocnemius (MG) and lateral gastrocnemius (LG) was demonstrated only at low to moderate forces by the observation of excitatory reflexes among them. During a naturally or electrically evoked crossed-extension reflex, however, a unidirectional inhibitory reflex from MG and LG to soleus was observed. This inhibition increased with force in MG or LG. These results suggest that the knee and ankle joints become more tightly linked mechanically at high forces since the stiffness of the biarticular gastrocnemius muscle predominates over that of the uniarticular soleus. 4. Under quiescent conditions (no resting muscle activation), mutual synergism was obeyed among the ankle extensors soleus, LG and MG and also between the pretibial flexors TA and extensor digitorum longus (EDL). Moreover, inhibition was generally observed between a pretibial flexor and an ankle extensor. Departures from this expected pattern of heterogenic reflexes occurred when the muscle groups were activated by crossed-extension and flexion reflexes. Reflexes onto soleus, TA and EDL reversed in sign or increased in magnitude. 5. The observed patterns of reflex connectivity among the ankle flexors and extensors were similar in both intercollicular and premammillary preparations, although changes in reflex strength were sometimes noted in cases where a second, lower transection was performed during the experiment. 6. It is argued from the large magnitudes of certain heterogenic reflexes that the mechanical response properties of muscles crossing the ankle joint in the intact animal are not dominated by autogenic reflexes and intrinsic mechanical properties.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ankle Joint
  • Cats
  • Decerebrate State*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Muscles / physiology*
  • Proprioception
  • Reflex, Stretch*