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Sheng Li, Woo-Hyung Park and Adam Borg

The study investigated squeezing reaction time (RT) in response to a visual cue during rhythmic voluntary breathing at 0.6 Hz paced by a metronome, breath holding, or at rest in 13 healthy subjects. Rhythmic voluntary breathing slowed down RT, only in the expiratory phase with accompanied changes in the length of respiratory phases, while breath-holding reduced RT. The prolonged RT during voluntary expiratory phases and the absence of changes in RT during voluntary inspiratory phases are most likely related to disproportionally increased cognitive demands during the expiratory phase of voluntary breathing. The absence of changes in RT during voluntary inspiration is likely to be compensated by respiratory-motor facilitation mechanisms in this phase. Shortened RT during breath holding is possibly associated with increased attention.

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Jurjen Bosga and Ruud G. J. Meulenbroek

In this study we investigated redundancy control in joint action. Ten participantpairs (dyads) performed a virtual lifting task in which isometric forces needed to be generated with two or four hands. The participants were not allowed to communicate but received continuous visual feedback of their performance. When the task had to be performed with four hands, participants were confronted with a redundant situation and between-hand force synergies could, in principle, be formed. Performance timing, success rates, cross-correlations, and relative phase analyses of the force-time functions were scrutinized to analyze such task-dependent synergies. The results show that even though the dyads performed the task slower and less synchronized in the joint than in the solo conditions, the success rates in these conditions were identical. Moreover, correlation and relative phase analyses demonstrated that, as expected, the dyads formed between-participant synergies that were indicative of force sharing in redundant task conditions.

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Julie N. Côté, Anatol G. Feldman, Pierre A. Mathieu and Mindy F. Levin

Fatigue affects the capacity of muscles to generate forces and is associated with characteristic changes in EMG signals. It may also influence interjoint and intermuscular coordination. To understand better the global effects of fatigue on multijoint movement, we studied movement kinematics and EMG changes in healthy volunteers asked to hammer repetitively. Movement kinematics and the activity of 20 muscles of the arm, trunk, and leg were recorded before and after subjects became fatigued (as measured using a Borg scale). When fatigue was reached, maximal grip strength and elbow range of motion decreased while the EMG amplitude of the contralateral external oblique muscle was increased. Fatigue did not affect shoulder and wrist kinematics or movement frequency. Results suggest that fatigue influences motion at both local and global levels. Specifically, interjoint and intermuscular coordination adapt to compensate for local effects of fatigue and to maintain key movement characteristics, such as the trajectory of the end effector and the movement frequency. Nonlocal compensations may be a focus of future studies of how fatigue affects complex movements such as those typically performed in the workplace.

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Mark L. Latash, Jae Kun Shim, Fan Gao and Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky

We review a series of studies that show stabilization of the moment of a couple produced by a set of digits in many maximal and submaximal accurate force production tasks that have no requirements for the moment. In particular, an unusual and novel multi-digit force production task shows stabilization of the total moment while the total force requires extensive practice to be stabilized. Similar results were obtained in persons with Down syndrome during easier tasks. During prehension, changes in digit forces and coordinates of their points of application suggest the presence of two multi-digit synergies whose purpose is to assure a certain grip force and a certain total moment, respectively. Elderly persons show impaired production of both maximal and submaximal moments that goes beyond their documented loss of muscle force. We conclude that moment production (keeping rotational equilibrium) is a central constraint in a variety of multi-digit tasks that has received little attention. Analysis of digit interaction for moment production during handwriting could signify a major step towards understanding the control of this action.

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Anne R. Schutte and John P. Spencer

The timed-initiation paradigm developed by Ghez and colleagues (1997) has revealed two modes of motor planning: continuous and discrete. Continuous responding occurs when targets are separated by less than 60° of spatial angle, and discrete responding occurs when targets are separated by greater than 60°. Although these two modes are thought to reflect the operation of separable strategic planning systems, a new theory of movement preparation, the Dynamic Field Theory, suggests that two modes emerge flexibly from the same system. Experiment 1 replicated continuous and discrete performance using a task modified to allow for a critical test of the single system view. In Experiment 2, participants were allowed to correct their movements following movement initiation (the standard task does not allow corrections). Results showed continuous planning performance at large and small target separations. These results are consistent with the proposal that the two modes reflect the time-dependent “preshaping” of a single planning system.

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Susumu Yahagi, Zhen Ni, Makoto Takahashi, Yusaku Takeda, Toshio Tsuji and Tatsuya Kasai

Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), differences in the excitability changes of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) between isometric (force task) and isotonic (movement task) muscle contractions in a distal (first dorsal interosseous; FDI) and a proximal (middle deltoid; MD) muscle were studied. In the FDI muscle, the active threshold of MEP recruitment was significantly lower in the isotonic than that in the isometric muscle contraction in spite of identical background EMG activity levels. Additionally, the dependence of the MEP amplitude on background EMG activity was significantly greater in the isotonic than in the isometric muscle contraction at low EMG activity levels, but the difference disappeared beyond middle EMG activity levels. In the MD muscle, the dependence of the MEP amplitude on background EMG activity was significantly greater in the isotonic than in the isometric muscle contraction, and further this dependence was kept at all muscle contraction levels. These results indicate that the dependence of the MEP amplitude on background EMG activity is modulated not only by the different muscle contraction modes (isotonic and isometric), but also by muscle properties (distal and proximal). Thus, the present findings suggest that the task-specific extra excitation in the proximal muscle is definitely produced corresponding to task differences (task-dependent subliminal fringe), which might be explained by the predominant frequency principle if applied to the proximal muscle. On the other hand, the lack of task-dependent extra excitation in the distal muscle is explained by the predominant recruitment principle for force grading in small hand muscles.

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Yu-Ting Tseng, Sanaz Khosravani, Arash Mahnan and Jürgen Konczak

This review addresses the role of exercise as an intervention for treating neurological disease. It focuses on three major neurological diseases that either present in acute or neurodegenerative forms—Parkinson’s disease, cerebellar ataxia, and cortical stroke. Each of the diseases affects primarily different brain structures, namely the basal ganglia, the cerebellum, and the cerebrum. These structures are all known to be involved in motor control, and the dysfunction of each structure leads to distinct movement deficits. The review summarizes current knowledge on how exercise can aid rehabilitation or therapeutic efforts. In addition, it addresses the role of robotic devices in enhancing available therapies by reviewing how robot-aided therapies may promote the recovery for stroke survivors. It highlights recent scientific evidence in support of exercise as a treatment for brain dysfunction, but also outlines the still open challenges for unequivocally demonstrating the benefits of exercise.

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Saira Chaudhry, Dylan Morrissey, Roger C. Woledge, Dan L. Bader and Hazel R.C. Screen

Triceps surae eccentric exercise is more effective than concentric exercise for treating Achilles tendinopathy, however the mechanisms underpinning these effects are unclear. This study compared the biomechanical characteristics of eccentric and concentric exercises to identify differences in the tendon load response. Eleven healthy volunteers performed eccentric and concentric exercises on a force plate, with ultrasonography, motion tracking, and EMG applied to measure Achilles tendon force, lower limb movement, and leg muscle activation. Tendon length was ultrasonographically tracked and quantified using a novel algorithm. The Fourier transform of the ground reaction force was also calculated to investigate for tremor, or perturbations. Tendon stiffness and extension did not vary between exercise types (P = .43). However, tendon perturbations were significantly higher during eccentric than concentric exercises (25%–40% higher, P = .02). Furthermore, perturbations during eccentric exercises were found to be negatively correlated with the tendon stiffness (R 2 = .59). The particular efficacy of eccentric exercise does not appear to result from variation in tendon stiffness or extension within a given session. However, varied perturbation magnitude may have a role in mediating the observed clinical effects. This property is subject-specific, with the source and clinical timecourse of such perturbations requiring further research.