Modular organization of the head retraction responses elicited by electrical painful stimulation of the facial skin in humans

Mariano Serrao, Francesca Cortese, Ole Kæseler Andersen, Carmela Conte, Erika G. Spaich, Gaia Fragiotta, Alberto Ranavolo, Gianluca Coppola, Armando Perrotta, Francesco Pierelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To explore whether the trigeminocervical reflexes (TCRs) show a reflex receptive field organization in the brainstem. Methods: The facial skin of 16 healthy subjects was electrically stimulated at nine sites reflecting the distribution of the three branches of the trigeminal nerve. The reflex-evoked EMG responses were measured bilaterally from the neck muscles and the head and neck kinematic reactions were detected. Results: TCRs are site dependent. There was a vertical gradient in the magnitude of the reflex responses. EMG and kinematic reflexes were larger when evoked from ophthalmic and maxillary sites than from mandibular ones. The reflex responses exhibited a crossed right-left behavior. Stimulation of the lateral sites evoked larger reflex responses in the contralateral trapezium muscle as well as head rotation and neck bending away from the stimulated side. Conclusion: This modular arrangement of the TCRs seems to be related to withdrawal strategies aimed at protecting the face from injuries, in accordance with the functional role that each group of muscles plays in head and neck motion. Significance: It is likely that the CNS may exploit the neck muscle synergies revealed by the painful stimulation of the skin face in order to control the head and neck movements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2306-2313
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Electromyography
  • Head retraction reflexes
  • Kinematics
  • Modular organization
  • Reflex receptive field
  • Trigeminocervical reflexes
  • Withdrawal reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Sensory Systems


Dive into the research topics of 'Modular organization of the head retraction responses elicited by electrical painful stimulation of the facial skin in humans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this