Reflex excitability of human soleus motoneurones during voluntary shortening or lengthening contractions

C. Romano, M. Schieppati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. We investigated the possibility that increase or decrease in the monosynaptic reflex excitability of the soleus muscle in man might play a role in matching the muscle mechanical output to the voluntary command aimed at performing isotonic contractions or relaxations, at various velocities. 2. Rectified and integrated electromyographic activity (e.m.g.) and the H reflex of soleus were measured during plantar flexions against a constant load (shortening contractions) or dorsal flexions resisting the load (lengthening contraction), performed without activation of pretibial muscles. 3. At the same ankle joint angle, integrated e.m.g. was larger during shortening contractions than during lengthening contractions. During shortening contractions, integrated e.m.g. increased as a function of the velocity of plantar flexion. During lengthening contractions, integrated e.m.g. decreased as a function of dorsal flexion and angular velocity and nearly disappeared in the last part of the most rapid lengthening contractions. 4. During shortening contractions, the H reflex increased beyond the extent expected for the level of e.m.g. activity; during lengthening contractions, reduction of the H reflex below control values at rest occurred in spite of background e.m.g. activity. 5. When the level of e.m.g. activity was kept constant, the above changes in H reflex were larger in both directions as a function of the velocity of the movement. 6. Passive rotation in the dorsal direction contributed to the inhibition observed during lengthening contractions. 7. It is suggested that these changes in the excitability of the H reflex, probably presynaptic in origin, serve the purpose of appropriately modulating the rate and extent of motoneurone recruitment during shortening and lengthening contractions. This allows the foot to follow a constant-velocity path in spite of the perturbing effects of the spindle afferent inputs and of the muscle characteristics described by the force-length and force-velocity diagrams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-284
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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