Journal of Neurophysiology

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Contribution of Afferent Feedback to the Soleus Muscle Activity During Human Locomotion

Nazarena Mazzaro, Michael J. Grey, Thomas Sinkjær


During the stance phase of the human step cycle, the ankle undergoes a natural dorsiflexion that stretches the soleus muscle. The afferent feedback resulting from this stretch enhances the locomotor drive. In this study a robotic actuator was used to slightly enhance or reduce the natural ankle dorsiflexion, in essence, mimicking the small variations in the ankle dorsiflexion movement that take place during the stance phase of the step cycle. The soleus (SOL) and tibialis anterior EMG were analyzed in response to the ankle trajectory modifications. The dorsiflexion enhancements and reductions generated gradual increments and decrements, respectively, in the ongoing SOL EMG. We exercised care to ensure that the imposed ankle movements were too slow to elicit distinct burst-like stretch reflex responses that have been investigated previously. The increased SOL EMG after the dorsiflexion enhancements was reduced when the group Ia afferents were blocked with peripheral ischemia at the thigh, and during high-frequency Achilles tendon vibration. However, neither ischemia nor tendon vibration affected the decrements in the SOL EMG during the dorsiflexion reductions. These findings give evidence of the contribution of afferent feedback to the SOL activity in an ongoing basis during the stance phase. The results suggest that mainly feedback from the group Ia pathways is responsible for the increments in the SOL EMG during the dorsiflexion enhancements. However, the decrements in the SOL activity might be mediated by different afferent mechanisms.

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