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Exp Brain Res. 1998 Oct;122(4):393-402.

Proprioceptive information processing in weightlessness.

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Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Humaine, UMR6562, Université de Provence CNRS, Marseille, France.


The "illusions" experiment carried out on five astronauts during the last two French-Russian flights (Antarès in 1992 and Altaïr in 1993) and in the Russian Post-Antarès mission (1993) was designed to investigate the adaptive changes in human proprioceptive functions occurring in weightlessness at both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, focusing on two kinds of responses: (1) whole-body postural reflexes, and (2) whole-body movement perception. These kinesthetic and motor responses were induced using the tendon-vibration method, which is known to selectively activate the proprioceptive muscular sensory channel and to elicit either motor reactions or illusory movement sensations. Vibration (70 Hz) was therefore applied to ankle (soleus or tibialis) and neck (splenii) muscles. The subject's whole-body motor responses were analyzed from EMG and goniometric recordings. The perceived vibration-induced kinesthetic sensations were mimicked by the subjects with a joystick. The main results show that a parallel in-flight attenuation of the vibration-induced postural responses and kinesthetic illusions occurred, which seems to indicate that the proprioceptive system adapts to the microgravity context, where standing posture and conscious coding of anteroposterior body movements are no longer relevant. The same sensory messages are used at the same time in different sensory motor loops and in the coding of newly developed behavioral movements under microgravity. These results suggest that the human proprioceptive system has a high degree of adaptive functional plasticity, at least as far as the perceptual and motor aspects are concerned.

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