Space-by-Time Modular Decomposition Effectively Describes Whole-Body Muscle Activity During Upright Reaching in Various Directions

Front Comput Neurosci. 2018 Apr 3;12:20. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2018.00020. eCollection 2018.


The modular control hypothesis suggests that motor commands are built from precoded modules whose specific combined recruitment can allow the performance of virtually any motor task. Despite considerable experimental support, this hypothesis remains tentative as classical findings of reduced dimensionality in muscle activity may also result from other constraints (biomechanical couplings, data averaging or low dimensionality of motor tasks). Here we assessed the effectiveness of modularity in describing muscle activity in a comprehensive experiment comprising 72 distinct point-to-point whole-body movements during which the activity of 30 muscles was recorded. To identify invariant modules of a temporal and spatial nature, we used a space-by-time decomposition of muscle activity that has been shown to encompass classical modularity models. To examine the decompositions, we focused not only on the amount of variance they explained but also on whether the task performed on each trial could be decoded from the single-trial activations of modules. For the sake of comparison, we confronted these scores to the scores obtained from alternative non-modular descriptions of the muscle data. We found that the space-by-time decomposition was effective in terms of data approximation and task discrimination at comparable reduction of dimensionality. These findings show that few spatial and temporal modules give a compact yet approximate representation of muscle patterns carrying nearly all task-relevant information for a variety of whole-body reaching movements.

Keywords: modularity; muscle synergies; single-trial analysis; space-by-time decomposition; task discrimination; whole-body pointing.