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Clin Neurophysiol. 2010 Oct;121(10):1680-9. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2010.02.166.

Stretch sensitive reflexes as an adaptive mechanism for maintaining limb stability.

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Sensory Motor Performance Program, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


The often studied stretch reflex is fundamental to the involuntary control of posture and movement. Nevertheless, there remains controversy regarding its functional role. Many studies have demonstrated that stretch reflexes can be modulated in a task appropriate manner. This review focuses on modulation of the long-latency stretch reflex, thought to be mediated, at least in part, by supraspinal pathways. For example, this component of the stretch reflex increases in magnitude during interactions with compliant environments, relative to its sensitivity during interactions with rigid environments. This suggests that reflex sensitivity increases to augment limb stability when that stability is not provided by the environment. However, not all results support the stabilizing role of stretch reflexes. Some studies have demonstrated that involuntary responses within the time period corresponding to the long-latency reflex can destabilize limb posture. We propose that this debate stems from the fact that multiple perturbation-sensitive pathways can contribute to the long-latency stretch reflex and that these pathways have separate functional roles. The presented studies suggest that neural activity occurring within the period normally ascribed to the long-latency stretch reflex is highly adaptable to current task demands and possibly should be considered more intelligent than "reflexive".

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