Phase-dependent and task-dependent modulation of reflexes has been extensively demonstrated in leg muscles during locomotory activity. In contrast, the modulation of reflex responses of hand muscles during rhythmic movement is poorly documented. The objective of this study was to determine whether comparable reflex modulation occurs in muscles controlling finger motions during rhythmic, fine-motor tasks akin to handwriting. Twelve healthy subjects performed two rhythmic tasks while reflexes were evoked by mechanical perturbations applied at various phases of each task. Electromyograms (EMGs) were recorded from four hand muscles, and reflexes were averaged during each task relative to the movement phase. Stretch reflexes in all four muscles were found to be modulated in amplitude with respect to the phase of the rhythmic tasks, and also to vary distinctly with the tasks being conducted. The extent and pattern of reflex modulation differed between muscles in the same task, and between tasks for the same muscle. Muscles with a primary role in each task showed a higher correlation between reflex response and background EMG than other muscles. The results suggest that the modulation patterns observed may reflect optimal strategies of central-peripheral interactions in controlling the performance of fine-motor tasks. As with comparable studies on locomotion, the phase-dependency of the stretch reflexes implies a dynamically fluctuating role of proprioceptive feedback in the control of the hand muscles. The dear task-dependency is also consistent with a dynamic interaction of sensory feedback and central programming, presumably adapted to facilitate the successful performance of the different fine-motor tasks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas