Learning New Feedforward Motor Commands Based on Feedback Responses

Curr Biol. 2020 May 18;30(10):1941-1948.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.005. Epub 2020 Apr 9.


Learning a new motor task modifies feedforward (i.e., voluntary) motor commands and such learning also changes the sensitivity of feedback responses (i.e., reflexes) to mechanical perturbations [1-9]. For example, after people learn to generate straight reaching movements in the presence of an external force field or learn to reduce shoulder muscle activity when generating pure elbow movements with shoulder fixation, evoked stretch reflex responses to mechanical perturbations reflect the learning expressed during self-initiated reaching. Such a transfer from feedforward motor commands to feedback responses is thought to take place because of shared neural circuits at the level of the spinal cord, brainstem, and cerebral cortex [10-13]. The presence of shared neural resources also predicts the transfer from feedback responses to feedforward motor commands. Little is known about such a transfer presumably because it is relatively hard to elicit learning in reflexes without engaging associated voluntary responses following mechanical perturbations. Here, we demonstrate such transfer by leveraging two approaches to elicit stretch reflexes while minimizing engagement of voluntary motor responses in the learning process: applying very short mechanical perturbations [14-19] and instructing participants to not respond to them [20-26]. Taken together, our work shows that transfer between feedforward and feedback control is bidirectional, furthering the notion that these processes share common neural circuits that underlie motor learning and transfer.

Keywords: feedback control; internal model; intersegmental dynamics; motor learning; reaching; stretch reflex; upper limb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Algorithms*
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Software*
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.11914539