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J Physiol. 2001 Dec 15;537(Pt 3):1033-45.

Neural control of rhythmic, cyclical human arm movement: task dependency, nerve specificity and phase modulation of cutaneous reflexes.

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  • 1Neurophysiology Laboratory, Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation and Centre for Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. pzehr@ualberta.ca


1. The organization and pattern of cutaneous reflex modulation during rhythmic cyclical movements of the human upper limbs has received much less attention than that afforded the lower limb. Our working hypothesis is that control mechanisms underlying the modulation of cutaneous reflex amplitude during rhythmic arm movement are similar to those that control reflex modulation in the leg. Thus, we hypothesized that cutaneous reflexes would show task dependency and nerve specificity in the upper limb during rhythmic cyclical arm movement as has been demonstrated in the human lower limb. 2. EMG was recorded from 10 muscles crossing the human shoulder, elbow and wrist joints while bilateral whole arm rhythmic cyclical movements were performed on a custom-made, hydraulic apparatus. 3. Cutaneous reflexes were evoked with trains (5 x 1.0 ms pulses at 300 Hz) of electrical stimulation delivered at non-noxious intensities (approximately 2 x threshold for radiating parasthesia) to the superficial radial, median and ulnar nerves innervating the hand. 4. Cutaneous reflexes were typically modulated with the movement cycle (i.e. phase dependency was observed). There was evidence for nerve specificity of cutaneous reflexes during rhythmic movement of the upper limbs. Task-dependent modulation was also seen as cutaneous reflexes were of larger amplitude or inhibitory (reflex reversal) during arm cycling as compared to static contraction. 5. While there are some differences in the patterns of cutaneous reflex modulation seen between the arms and legs, it is concluded that cutaneous reflexes are modulated similarly in the upper and lower limbs implicating similar motor control mechanisms.

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