Goal-dependent tuning of muscle spindle receptors during movement preparation

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Science Advances  24 Feb 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 9, eabe0401
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe0401


Voluntary movements are believed to undergo preparation before they are executed. Preparatory activity can benefit reaction time and the quality of planned movements, but the neural mechanisms at work during preparation are unclear. For example, there are no overt changes in muscle force during preparation. Here, using an instructed-delay manual task, we demonstrate a decrease in human muscle afferent activity (primary spindles) when preparing to reach targets in directions associated with stretch of the spindle-bearing muscle. This goal-dependent modulation of proprioceptors began early after target onset but was markedly stronger at the latter parts of the preparatory period. Moreover, whole-arm perturbations during reach preparation revealed a modulation of stretch reflex gains (shoulder and upper arm muscles) that reflected the observed changes in spindle activity. We suggest that one function of central preparatory activity is to tune muscle stiffness according to task goals via the independent control of muscle spindle sensors.

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