Neural control of rhythmic human arm movement: phase dependence and task modulation of hoffmann reflexes in forearm muscles

E Paul Zehr, David F Collins, Alain Frigon, Nienke Hoogenboom
Journal of Neurophysiology 2003, 89 (1): 12-21
Although we move our arms rhythmically during walking, running, and swimming, we know little about the neural control of such movements. Our working hypothesis is that neural mechanisms controlling rhythmic movements are similar in the human lumbar and cervical spinal cord. Thus reflex modulation during rhythmic arm movement should be similar to that seen during leg movement. Our main experimental hypotheses were that the amplitude of H-reflexes in the forearm muscles would be modulated during arm movement (i.e., phase-dependent) and would be inhibited during cycling compared with static contraction (i.e., task-dependent). Furthermore, to determine the locus of any modulation, we tested the effect that active and passive movement of the ipsilateral (relative to stimulated arm) and contralateral arm had on H-reflex amplitude. Subjects performed rhythmic arm cycling on a custom-made hydraulic ergometer in which the two arms could be constrained to move together (180 degrees out of phase) or could rotate independently. Position of the stimulated limb in the movement cycle is described with respect to the clock face. H-reflexes were evoked at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions during static contraction as well as during rhythmic arm movements. Reflex amplitudes were compared between tasks at equal M wave amplitudes and similar levels of electromyographic (EMG) activity in the target muscle. Surface EMG recordings were obtained bilaterally from flexor carpi radialis as well as from other muscles controlling the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Compared with reflexes evoked during static contractions, movement of the stimulated limb attenuated H-reflexes by 50.8% (P < 0.005), 65.3% (P < 0.001), and 52.6% (P < 0.001) for bilateral, active ipsilateral, and passive ipsilateral movements, respectively. In contrast, movement of the contralateral limb did not significantly alter H-reflex amplitude. H-reflexes were also modulated by limb position (P < 0.005). Thus task- and phase-dependent modulation were observed in the arm as previously demonstrated in the leg. The data support the hypothesis that neural mechanisms regulating reflex pathways in the moving limb are similar in the human upper and lower limbs. However, the inhibition of H-reflex amplitude induced by contralateral leg movement is absent in the arms. This may reflect the greater extent to which the arms can be used independently.

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