The stretch reflex or myotatic reflex refers to the contraction of a muscle in response to its passive stretching by increasing its contractility as long as the stretch is within physiological limits. For ages, it was thought that the stretch reflex was of short latency and it was synonymous with the tendon reflex, subserving the same spinal reflex arc. However, disparities in the status of the two reflexes in certain clinical situations led Marsden and his collaborators to carry out a series of experiments that helped to establish that the two reflexes had different pathways. That the two reflexes are dissociated has been proved by the fact that the stretch reflex and the tendon reflex, elicited by stimulation of the same muscle, have different latencies, that of the stretch reflex being considerably longer. They hypothesized that the stretch reflex had a transcortical course before it reached the spinal motor neurons for final firing. Additionally, the phenomenon of stimulus-sensitive cortical myoclonus lent further evidence to the presence of the transcortical loop where the EEG correlate preceded the EMG discharge. This concept has been worked out by later neurologists in great detail, and the general consensus is that indeed, the stretch reflex is endowed with a conspicuous transcortical component.
Keywords: C David Marsden; stretch reflex; tendon reflex; transcortical loop.