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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Oct;98(4):2144-56. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Muscle synergies characterizing human postural responses.

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The Wallace H Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322-0535, USA.


Postural control is a natural behavior that requires the spatial and temporal coordination of multiple muscles. Complex muscle activation patterns characterizing postural responses suggest the need for independent muscle control. However, our previous work shows that postural responses in cats can be robustly reproduced by the activation of a few muscle synergies. We now investigate whether a similar neural strategy is used for human postural control. We hypothesized that a few muscle synergies could account for the intertrial variability in automatic postural responses from different perturbation directions, as well as different postural strategies. Postural responses to multidirectional support-surface translations in 16 muscles of the lower back and leg were analyzed in nine healthy subjects. Six or fewer muscle synergies were required to reproduce the postural responses of each subject. The composition and temporal activation of several muscle synergies identified across all subjects were consistent with the previously identified "ankle" and "hip" strategies in human postural responses. Moreover, intertrial variability in muscle activation patterns was successfully reproduced by modulating the activity of the various muscle synergies. This suggests that trial-to-trial variations in the activation of individual muscles are correlated and, moreover, represent variations in the amplitude of descending neural commands that activate individual muscle synergies. Finally, composition and temporal activation of most of the muscle synergies were similar across subjects. These results suggest that muscle synergies represent a general neural strategy underlying muscle coordination in postural tasks.

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