Rapid feedback responses are flexibly coordinated across arm muscles to support goal-directed reaching

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Journal of Neurophysiology





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A transcortical pathway helps support goal-directed reaching by processing somatosensory information to produce rapid feedback responses across multiple joints and muscles. Here, we tested whether such feedback responses can account for changes in arm configuration and for arbitrary visuomotor transformations—two manipulations that alter how muscles at the elbow and wrist need to be coordinated to achieve task success. Participants used a planar three degree-of-freedom exoskeleton robot to move a cursor to a target following a mechanical perturbation that flexed the elbow. In our first experiment, the cursor was mapped to the veridical position of the robot handle, but participants grasped the handle with two different hand orientations (thumb pointing upward or thumb pointing downward). We found that large rapid feedback responses were evoked in wrist extensor muscles when wrist extension helped move the cursor to the target (i.e., thumb upward), and in wrist flexor muscles when wrist flexion helped move the cursor to the target (i.e., thumb downward). In our second experiment, participants grasped the robot handle with their thumb pointing upward, but the cursor’s movement was either veridical or was mirrored such that flexing the wrist moved the cursor as if the participant extended their wrist, and vice versa. After extensive practice, we found that rapid feedback responses were appropriately tuned to the wrist muscles that supported moving the cursor to the target when the cursor was mapped to the mirrored movement of the wrist, but were not tuned to the appropriate wrist muscles when the cursor was remapped to the wrist’s veridical movement. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We show that rapid feedback responses were evoked in different wrist muscles depending on the arm’s orientation, and this muscle activity was appropriate to generate the wrist motion that supported a reaching action. Notably, we also show that these rapid feedback responses can be evoked in wrist muscles that are detrimental to a reaching action if a nonveridical mapping between wrist and hand motion is extensively learned.