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Motor variability is an inherent feature of all human movements, and describes the system‘s stability and rigidity during the performance of functional motor tasks such as balancing. In order to ensure successful task execution, the nervous system is thought to be able to flexibly select the appropriate level of variability. However, it remains unknown which neurophysiological pathways are utilized for the control of motor output variability. In responding to natural variability (in this example sway), it is plausible that the neuro-physiological response to muscular elongation contributes to restoring a balanced upright posture. In this study, the postural sway of 18 healthy subjects was observed while their visual and mechano-sensory system was perturbed. Simultaneously, the contribution of Ia-afferent information for controlling the motor task was assessed by means of H-reflex. There was no association between postural sway and Ia-afference in the eyes open condition, however up to 4%of the effects of eye closure on themagnitude of sway can be compensated by increased reliance on Ia-afference. Increasing the biomechanical demands by adding up to 40% bodyweight around the trunk induced a specific sway response, such that the magnitude of sway remained unchanged but its dynamic structure became more regular and stable (by up to 18%). Such regular sway patterns have been associated with enhanced cognitive involvement in controlling motor tasks. It therefore appears that the nervous system applies different control strategies in response to the perturbations: The loss of visual information is compensated by increased reliance on other receptors; while the specific regular sway pattern associated with additional weight-bearing was independent of Ia-afferent information, suggesting the fundamental involvement of supraspinal centers for the control of motor output variability.


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, volume 11, in 2017. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00087

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