Coordination of coupled hand and foot movements during childhood

To acquire further insight into the neural mechanisms governing the association of voluntary oscillations of ipsilateral hand and foot we investigated when and how coordination of such coupling develops in children 7-10 years old. Sixty-six children were asked to rhythmically oscillate their right hand and foot, paired in-phase or anti-phase (i.e. rotating in the same or in the opposite angular direction). Angular displacement was monitored by a potentiometric technique, and EMGs from extensor carpi radialis (ECR) and tibialis anterior (TA) were recorded. All subjects were able to couple in-phase oscillations, but 13 of them failed to perform the anti-phase task. Maximal frequency of oscillation was found to be positively correlated with age. Phase-relations between hand and foot oscillations and between onsets of the EMG activity in hand and foot movers were measured in 37 of the children. During in-phase coupling limb oscillations were kept in an almost perfect synchrony by three different modalities of muscle recruitment. Ten of the youngest children activated TA before ECR, while 13 of the oldest subjects activated ECR before TA, as do adults. The remaining 14 children (7-8 years old) activated the two muscles almost synchronously. During anti-phase coupling, most of the younger children (20) showed a strict phase-opposition between both EMG onsets and movements. The remaining 10 (9-10 years old) activated the ECR first. The hand frequency-response (i.e. the phase-relation between the onset of the EMG and the related movement) showed age-related changes, corresponding to the behaviour of a mass-spring model (with lumped parameters) decreasing its resonant frequency. Instead, the foot frequency-response remained unchanged. The age-related modifications of the hand frequency-response adequately explain the changes of the interlimb relations described above. These results show that central structures controlling hand and foot coupling are still immature before 10 years of age and reinforce the view that in-phase and anti-phase coupling require separate neural controls.

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