Coordinating long-latency stretch responses across the shoulder, elbow, and wrist during goal-directed reaching

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Journal of Neurophysiology





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The long-latency stretch response (muscle activity 50-100 ms after a mechanical perturbation) can be coordinated across multiple joints to support goal-directed actions. Here we assessed the flexibility of such coordination and whether it serves to counteract intersegmental dynamics and exploit kinematic redundancy. In three experiments, participants made planar reaches to visual targets after elbow perturbations and we assessed the coordination of long-latency stretch responses across shoulder, elbow, and wrist muscles. Importantly, targets were placed such that elbow and wrist (but not shoulder) rotations could help transport the hand to the target-a simple form of kinematic redundancy. In experiment 1 we applied perturbations of different magnitudes to the elbow and found that long-latency stretch responses in shoulder, elbow, and wrist muscles scaled with perturbation magnitude. In experiment 2 we examined the trial-by-trial relationship between long-latency stretch responses at adjacent joints and found that the magnitudes of the responses in shoulder and elbow muscles, as well as elbow and wrist muscles, were positively correlated. In experiment 3 we explicitly instructed participants how to use their wrist to move their hand to the target after the perturbation. We found that long-latency stretch responses in wrist muscles were not sensitive to our instructions, despite the fact that participants incorporated these instructions into their voluntary behavior. Taken together, our results indicate that, during reaching, the coordination of long-latency stretch responses across multiple joints counteracts intersegmental dynamics but may not be able to exploit kinematic redundancy.