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Exp Brain Res. 2010 Dec;207(3-4):233-47. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2427-8. Epub 2010 Oct 24.

Functional reorganization of upper-body movement after spinal cord injury.

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Sensory Motor Performance Program, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 345 E. Superior Street, Suite 1406, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Survivors of spinal cord injury need to reorganize their residual body movements for interacting with assistive devices and performing activities that used to be easy and natural. To investigate movement reorganization, we asked subjects with high-level spinal cord injury (SCI) and unimpaired subjects to control a cursor on a screen by performing upper-body motions. While this task would be normally accomplished by operating a computer mouse, here shoulder motions were mapped into the cursor position. Both the control and the SCI subjects were rapidly able to reorganize their movements and to successfully control the cursor. The majority of the subjects in both groups were successful in reducing the movements that were not effective at producing cursor motions. This is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the control system is merely concerned with the accurate acquisition of the targets and is unconcerned with motions that are not relevant to this goal. In contrast, our findings suggest that subjects can learn to reorganize coordination so as to increase the correspondence between the subspace of their upper-body motions with the plane in which the controlled cursor moves. This is effectively equivalent to constructing an inverse internal model of the map from body motions to cursor motions, established by the experiment. These results are relevant to the development of interfaces for assistive devices that optimize the use of residual voluntary control and enhance the learning process in disabled users, searching for an easily learnable map between their body motor space and control space of the device.

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