Express arm responses appear bilaterally on upper-limb muscles in an arm choice reaching task

J Neurophysiol. 2022 Apr 1;127(4):969-983. doi: 10.1152/jn.00494.2021. Epub 2022 Mar 16.


When required, humans can generate very short latency reaches toward visual targets, such as catching a falling cellphone. During such rapid reaches, express arm responses are the first wave of upper limb muscle recruitment, occurring ∼80-100 ms after target appearance. There is accumulating evidence that express arm responses arise from signaling along the tecto-reticulo-spinal tract, but the involvement of the reticulospinal tract has not been well studied. Since the reticulospinal tract projects bilaterally, we studied whether express arm responses would be generated bilaterally. Human participants (n = 14; 7 females) performed visually guided reaches in a modified emerging target paradigm where either arm could intercept the target. We recorded electromyographic activity bilaterally from the pectoralis major muscle. Our analysis focused on target locations where participants reached with the right arm on some trials, and the left arm on others. In support of the involvement of the reticulospinal tract, express arm responses persisted bilaterally regardless of which arm reached to the target. The latency and magnitude of the express arm response did not depend on whether the arm was chosen to reach or not. However, on the reaching arm, the magnitude of the express arm response was correlated to the level of anticipatory activity. The bilateral generation of express arm responses supports the involvement of the reticulospinal tract. We surmise that the correlation between anticipatory activity and the magnitude of express arm responses on the reaching arm arises from convergence of cortically derived signals with a parallel subcortical pathway mediating the express arm response.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Express arm responses have been proposed to arise from the tecto-reticulo-spinal tract originating within the superior colliculus, but the involvement of the reticulospinal tract has not been well studied. Here, we show these responses appear bilaterally in a task where either arm can reach to a newly appearing stimulus. Our results suggest that the most rapid visuomotor transformations for reaching are performed by a subcortical pathway.

Keywords: EMG; express arm response; reaching; reticulo-spinal tract; visually guided reaches; visuomotor transformation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arm* / physiology
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscles
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi
  • Upper Extremity*