Excitability changes in resting forearm muscles during voluntary foot movements depend on hand position: a neural substrate for hand-foot isodirectional coupling

Paola Borroni, Gabriella Cerri, Fausto Baldissera
Brain Research 2004 October 1, 1022 (1): 117-25
When associating hand and foot voluntary oscillations, isodirectional coupling is preferred irrespective of hand position (prone or supine). To investigate the neural correlates of this coupling modality, excitability of the motor projections innervating the resting forearm was tested during cyclic voluntary flexion-extensions of the ipsilateral foot. H-reflexes, in some experiments facilitated by subliminal Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and Compound Muscle Action Potentials (CMAPs), evoked by supraliminal TMS, were elicited in Flexor Carpi Radialis (FCR) and Extensor Carpi Radialis (ECR) muscles at five intervals during the foot movement cycle. With the hand prone, a sinusoidal excitability modulation was observed in wrist flexors and extensors, but reversed in phase: in FCR, excitability increased during plantar-flexion and decreased during dorsiflexion, while in ECR the opposite occurred. This reciprocal organisation was confirmed by the excitability modulation of CMAPs evoked simultaneously in the two antagonists. When the hand was supinated, the H-reflex modulation reversed in phase, i.e., FCR excitability increased during foot dorsiflexion and decreased during plantar-flexion. In both muscles and hand positions tested, when the muscle-to-movement phase-lag was increased by inertial loading of the foot, H-reflex excitability modulations remained phase linked to muscular contractions, not to movement. Together, these results suggest that the subliminal excitability modulation of hand movers has a common central origin with the parallel overt activation of foot movers, is reciprocally organised, and is direction- not muscle-dependent. It may therefore represent the neural substrate for isodirectional coupling of hand (prone or supine) with the foot.

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