Influence of a light touch reference on cutaneous reflexes from the hand during standing.

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  • Light touch of a stable reference reduces sway during standing. However, unexpected displacement of a light touch reference leads to short-latency reactions in ankle muscles consistent with a balance reaction, that are replaced by responses in arm muscles on subsequent trials. We anticipated that excitability of sensorimotor pathways arising from finger cutaneous afferents would reflect these changes in behavior. We hypothesized that 1) interlimb cutaneous reflexes in muscles of the ipsilateral leg, derived from median nerve (MED) stimulation would be facilitated when touch was stable, but reduced when touch was unreliable, 2) intralimb MED reflexes in muscles of the homonymous arm would be facilitated when touch was unreliable and participants tracked the touch reference with arm movements, and 3) radial nerve (RAD) evoked reflexes would be unaffected, given that the RAD innervation territory is not involved in the light touch task. Cutaneous reflexes were evoked using a transcutaneous train of pulses (5 x 1.0 ms square-wave pulses; 300 Hz) and recorded using electromyography of muscles of the ipsilateral arm and leg. As hypothesized, interlimb MED reflexes recorded in soleus (SOL) were larger when touching the stable reference (mean ± sd %MVC; 4.78 ± 1.57) than when not touching a reference (1.00 ± 1.05) or when touching an unstable reference (1.07 ± 1.16). In addition, intralimb MED reflexes in anterior deltoid (AD) were larger when touching an unstable reference (4.50 ± 1.31), compared to touching a stable reference (1.34 ± 1.01) or not touching (1.50 ± 1.00). In contrast, interlimb RAD reflexes in SOL were larger when not touching (4.29 ± 4.34), compared with touching a stable (1.14 ± 1.84) or unstable reference (3.11 ± 4.15). These findings indicate that cutaneous reflexes from the hand are scaled with a rapid change in motor behavior when a touch reference becomes unstable, suggesting that spinal sensorimotor pathways are functionally reweighted based in part upon the reliability of tactile inputs.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
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