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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Aug 2;91(16):7534-8.

Linear combinations of primitives in vertebrate motor control.

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  • 1Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139-4307.


Recent investigations on the spinalized frog have provided evidence suggesting that the neural circuits in the spinal cord are organized into a number of distinct functional modules. We have investigated the rule that governs the coactivation of two such modules. To this end, we have developed an experimental paradigm that involves the simultaneous stimulation of two sites in the frog's spinal cord and the quantitative comparison of the resulting mechanical response with the summation of the responses obtained from the stimulation of each site. We found that the simultaneous stimulation of two sites leads to the vector summation of the endpoint forces generated by each site separately. This linear behavior is quite remarkable and provides strong support to the view that the central nervous system may generate a wide repertoire of motor behaviors through the vectorial superposition of a few motor primitives stored within the neural circuits in the spinal cord.

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