Transient inhibition of primary motor cortex suppresses hand muscle responses during a reactive reach to grasp

David A E Bolton, Rupesh Patel, W Richard Staines, William E McIlroy
Neuroscience Letters 2011 October 24, 504 (2): 83-7
Rapid balance reactions such as compensatory reach to grasp represent important response strategies following unexpected loss of balance. While it has been assumed that early corrective actions arise from subcortical networks, recent research has prompted speculation about the potential role of cortical involvement. With reach to grasp reactions there is evidence of parallels in the control of perturbation-evoked reaching versus rapid voluntary reaching. However, the potential role of cortical involvement in such rapid balance reactions remains speculative. To test if cortical motor regions are involved we used continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) to temporarily suppress the hand area of primary motor cortex (M1) in participants involved in two reaching conditions: (1) rapid compensatory perturbation-evoked reach to grasp and (2) voluntary reach to grasp in response to an auditory cue. We hypothesized that following cTBS to the left M1 hand area we would find diminished EMG responses in the reaching (right) hand for both compensatory and voluntary movements. To isolate balance reactions to the upper limb participants were seated in an elevated tilt-chair with a stable handle positioned in front of their right shoulder. The chair was held vertical by a magnet and triggered to fall backward randomly. To regain balance, participants were instructed to reach for the handle as quickly as possible with the right hand upon chair release. Intermixed with perturbation trials, participants were also required to reach for the same handle but in response to an auditory tone. Muscle activity was recorded from several muscles of the right arm/hand using electromyography. As expected, movement time and muscle onsets were much faster following perturbation versus auditory-cued reaching. The novel finding from our study was the reduced amplitude of hand muscle activity post-cTBS for both perturbation-cued and auditory-cued reaches. Moreover, this reduction was specific to the cTBS-targeted hand with no effect on remaining arm muscles. These findings support the idea that cortical networks contribute to both volitional and perturbation-evoked reaches and provide evidence for M1involvement in driving early arm responses toward a target following sudden loss of balance.

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