Assistive Loading Promotes Goal-Directed Tuning of Stretch Reflex Gains

Frida Torell, Sae Franklin, David W. Franklin, Michael Dimitriou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Voluntary movements are prepared before they are executed. Preparatory activity has been observed across the CNS and recently documented in first-order neurons of the human PNS (i.e., in muscle spindles). Changes seen in sensory organs suggest that independent modulation of stretch reflex gains may represent an impor-tant component of movement preparation. The aim of the current study was to further investigate the preparatory modulation of short-latency stretch reflex responses (SLRs) and long-latency stretch reflex responses (LLRs) of the dominant upper limb of human subjects. Specifically, we investigated how different target pa-rameters (target distance and direction) affect the preparatory tuning of stretch reflex gains in the context of goal-directed reaching, and whether any such tuning depends on preparation duration and the direction of background loads. We found that target distance produced only small variations in reflex gains. In contrast, both SLR and LLR gains were strongly modulated as a function of target direction, in a manner that facili-tated the upcoming voluntary movement. This goal-directed tuning of SLR and LLR gains was present or enhanced when the preparatory delay was sufficiently long (.250 ms) and the homonymous muscle was unloaded [i.e., when a background load was first applied in the direction of homonymous muscle action (as-sistive loading)]. The results extend further support for a relatively slow-evolving process in reach preparation that functions to modulate reflexive muscle stiffness, likely via the independent control of fusimotor neurons. Such control can augment voluntary goal-directed movement and is triggered or enhanced when the homonymous muscle is unloaded.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberENEURO.0438-22.2023
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • assistive loading
  • goal-directed
  • movement preparation
  • reaching
  • stretch reflex


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