Multimodal stimuli modulate rapid visual responses during reaching

J Neurophysiol. 2019 Nov 1;122(5):1894-1908. doi: 10.1152/jn.00158.2019. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


The reticulospinal tract plays an important role in primate upper limb function, but methods for assessing its activity are limited. One promising approach is to measure rapid visual responses (RVRs) in arm muscle activity during a visually cued reaching task; these may arise from a tecto-reticulospinal pathway. We investigated whether changes in reticulospinal excitability can be assessed noninvasively using RVRs, by pairing the visual stimuli of the reaching task with electrical stimulation of the median nerve, galvanic vestibular stimulation, or loud sounds, all of which are known to activate the reticular formation. Surface electromyogram (EMG) recordings were made from the right deltoid of healthy human subjects as they performed fast reaching movements toward visual targets. Stimuli were delivered up to 200 ms before target appearance, and RVR was quantified as the EMG amplitude in a window 75-125 ms after visual target onset. Median nerve, vestibular, and auditory stimuli all consistently facilitated the RVRs, as well as reducing the latency of responses. We propose that this facilitation reflects modulation of tecto-reticulospinal excitability, which is consistent with the idea that the amplitude of RVRs can be used to assess changes in brain stem excitability noninvasively in humans.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Short-latency responses in arm muscles evoked during a visually driven reaching task have previously been proposed to be tecto-reticulospinal in origin. We demonstrate that these responses can be facilitated by pairing the appearance of a visual target with stimuli that activate the reticular formation: median nerve, vestibular, and auditory stimuli. We propose that this reflects noninvasive measurement and modulation of reticulospinal excitability.

Keywords: brain stem; reaching; reticulospinal; superior colliculus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cues
  • Deltoid Muscle / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Reticular Formation / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult