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On the origin of muscle synergies: Invariant balance in the co-activation of agonist and antagonist muscle pairs

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Hermano Krebs


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© 2015 Hirai, Miyazaki, Naritomi, Koba, Oku, Uno, Uemura, Nishi, Kageyama and Krebs. Investigation of neural representation of movement planning has attracted the attention of neuroscientists, as it may reveal the sensorimotor transformation essential to motor control. The analysis of muscle synergies based on the activity of agonist-antagonist (AA) muscle pairs may provide insight into such transformations, especially for a reference frame in the muscle space. In this study, we examined the AA concept using the following explanatory variables: the AA ratio, which is related to the equilibrium-joint angle, and the AA sum, which is associated with joint stiffness. We formulated muscle synergies as a function of AA sums, positing that muscle synergies are composite units of mechanical impedance. The AA concept can be regarded as another form of the equilibrium-point (EP) hypothesis, and it can be extended to the concept of EP-based synergies. We introduce, here, a novel tool for analyzing the neurological and motor functions underlying human movements and review some initial insights from our results about the relationships between muscle synergies, endpoint stiffness, and virtual trajectories (time series of EP). Our results suggest that (1) muscle synergies reflect an invariant balance in the co-activation of AA muscle pairs; (2) each synergy represents the basis for the radial, tangential, and null movements of the virtual trajectory in the polar coordinates centered on the specific joint at the base of the body; and (3) the alteration of muscle synergies (for example, due to spasticity or rigidity following neurological injury) results in significant distortion of endpoint stiffness and concomitant virtual trajectories. These results indicate that muscle synergies (i.e., the balance of muscle mechanical impedance) are essential for motor control.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hirai H, Miyazaki F, Naritomi H, Koba K, Oku T, Uno K, Uemura M, Nishi T, Kageyama M, Krebs HI

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology

Year: 2015

Volume: 3

Online publication date: 24/11/2015

Acceptance date: 06/11/2015

ISSN (electronic): 2296-4185

Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation


DOI: 10.3389/fbioe.2015.00192


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