Origin of the specific H reflex facilitation preceding a voluntary movement in man

1. In a reaction time situation, the monosynaptic spinal reflex (H reflex) is facilitated before the onset of an electromyographic (EMG) response. The aim of the present investigation was to test if the facilitation can be attributed either to a subliminal depolarization of motoneurones or to an increase of the excitatory effect of the afferent volley reaching the motoneurones. 2. At the onset of an acoustic warning signal, human subjects were required to concentrate on a reaction time task and, in addition, to initiate a steady isometric plantar flexion of medium intensity in both feet. In response to a following visual stimulus, they carried out a ballistic plantar flexion randomly with the right or left foot. At different times after the visual reaction signal, H reflexes were elicited bilaterally. 3. The facilitation of the H reflex was similar in the presence and absence of a steady activation. In addition, the facilitations were similar in absolute amplitude and duration when the stimuli evoking the H reflexes were at threshold intensities, or at an intensity which produced control H reflexes of 60% maximum amplitude. 4. In a second series of experiments, no H reflexes were elicited but the strength of the steady plantar flexion was varied. Premotor time, i.e. the interval between the onset of the visual stimulus and the EMG response, and reaction time, i.e. the interval between the onset of the visual stimulus and the mechanical response, were computed. Neither parameter depended significantly on the intensity of steady flexion and they were the same with steady flexion as without. 5. The rectified EMG records and the torque records were aligned by the end of premotor time. Three-dimensional displays of average activity as a function of time and steady activation level were computed. No activation before premotor and reaction time was detected which could have been related to the H reflex facilitation. 6. The present results suggest that all motoneurones, in particular those being activated during the voluntary contraction, can contribute to the H reflex facilitation before movement onset and that the basis of this facilitation is an enhanced excitatory effect of the afferent volley elicited by the H reflex stimulus. Mechanisms leading to the facilitation could be removal of presynaptic inhibition at I a terminals or facilitation of interneurones intercalated in polysynaptic components of the reflex pathways.

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