Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

A cross-species neural integration of gravity for motor optimization

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Science Advances  07 Apr 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 15, eabf7800
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf7800

Abstract

Recent kinematic results, combined with model simulations, have provided support for the hypothesis that the human brain shapes motor patterns that use gravity effects to minimize muscle effort. Because many different muscular activation patterns can give rise to the same trajectory, here, we specifically investigate gravity-related movement properties by analyzing muscular activation patterns during single-degree-of-freedom arm movements in various directions. Using a well-known decomposition method of tonic and phasic electromyographic activities, we demonstrate that phasic electromyograms (EMGs) present systematic negative phases. This negativity reveals the optimal motor plan’s neural signature, where the motor system harvests the mechanical effects of gravity to accelerate downward and decelerate upward movements, thereby saving muscle effort. We compare experimental findings in humans to monkeys, generalizing the Effort-optimization strategy across species.

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