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Clinical Trial
. 1997 Mar;5(3):221-8.
doi: 10.1016/s0926-6410(96)00072-9.

Mental Simulation of an Action Modulates the Excitability of Spinal Reflex Pathways in Man

Clinical Trial

Mental Simulation of an Action Modulates the Excitability of Spinal Reflex Pathways in Man

M Bonnet et al. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. .


The question of whether mental simulation of an action has an effect on the spinal reflex circuits was examined in normal humans. Subjects were instructed either to exert or to mentally simulate a strong or a weak pressure on a pedal with the left or the right foot. Changes in the H- and T-reflexes activated by electrical and mechanical stimuli were measured on both legs during motor performance as well as during mental simulation of the same task. Asynchronous EMG activity of the soleus muscles was simultaneously recorded. Reflex excitability increased during performance of the pressure. It was larger when the H-reflex was triggered in the muscle involved in the task as compared to the contralateral side. Because actual performance modified the tension of the tendon and the location of the stimulus, ipsilateral changes of T-reflex amplitude could not be evaluated. Mental simulation of foot pressure in this condition resulted in a large increase of spinal reflex excitability, which was only slightly weaker than the reflex facilitation associated with the actual performance. Changes in T-reflex amplitude, but not in H-reflex amplitude, depended upon the lateralization and force of the simulated pressure, being larger in the leg involved in the simulation than in the contralateral leg, and larger for a strong than for a weak simulated movement. EMG activity was found to be weakly increased during mental imagery. This increase was significantly, although slightly, modulated by the lateralization and intensity of the imagined movement. However, no correlation was found across subjects between reflex amplitude and the amplitude of EMG activity.

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