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J Physiol. 1983 Jun;339:535-52.

The afferent volleys responsible for spinal proprioceptive reflexes in man.


1. To define the neural volleys responsible for the Achilles tendon jerk and the H reflex, muscle afferent activity was recorded using micro-electrodes inserted percutaneously into appropriate fascicles of the tibial nerve in the popliteal fossa.2. The response of soleus muscle afferents to tendon percussion consisted of a dispersed volley, starting 3.5-7.0 ms after percussion, increasing to a peak over 6.5-11.0 ms, and lasting 25-30 ms, depending on the strength of percussion. Electrical stimuli to the sciatic nerve at a level adequate to evoke an H reflex but subthreshold for the M wave produced a more synchronized volley, the fastest fibres of which had conduction velocities of 62-67 m/s, and the slowest 36-45 m/s.3. The wave of acceleration produced by percussion subthreshold for the ankle jerk spread along the skin at over 150 m/s. Midway between the bellies of the gastrocnemii it consisted of a damped oscillation with four to five separate phases and maximum amplitude approximately one-twentieth of that recorded on the Achilles tendon.4. With ten primary spindle endings, tendon percussion subthreshold for the ankle jerk elicited two to five spike discharges per tap, the shortest interspike intervals being 4-7 ms. Tendon percussion elicited single discharges from two Golgi tendon organs, and altered the discharge pattern of a single secondary spindle ending. The degree of dispersion of the multi-unit muscle afferent volley can be explained by the pattern of discharge of primary spindle endings.5. Percussion on the Achilles tendon evoked crisp afferent volleys in recordings from nerve fascicles innervating flexor hallucis longus, tibialis posterior, the intrinsic muscles of the foot and the skin of the foot. Electrical stimuli delivered to the tibial nerve in the popliteal fossa at a level sufficient for the H reflex of soleus produced either a volley in muscle afferents from the intrinsic muscles of the foot or a volley in cutaneous afferents from the foot.6. For comparable stimuli in the two positions, the H reflex was inhibited but the Achilles tendon jerk enhanced when the ankle was dorsiflexed from 105 degrees to 90 degrees .7. The duration of the rise times of the excitatory post-synaptic potentials (e.p.s.p.s) produced in soleus motoneurones by electrical stimulation, and by tendon percussion subthreshold for the H reflex and the ankle jerk respectively, was estimated from post-stimulus time histograms of the discharge of voluntarily activated single motor units in soleus. The mean e.p.s.p. rise times were 1.9 ms for electrical stimulation and 6.6 ms for tendon percussion. There was evidence that the duration of the electrically evoked e.p.s.p. was curtailed by an inhibitory post-synaptic potential (i.p.s.p.) of only slightly longer latency than the e.p.s.p.8. The mechanically induced and electrically induced afferent volleys are not homogeneous volleys in group I a afferents from triceps surae. The afferent volleys differ in so many respects that it is probably invalid to compare the H reflex and tendon jerk as a measure of fusimotor activity. It is suggested that neither reflex can be considered a purely monosynaptic reflex.

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