Robustness of muscle synergies during visuomotor adaptation

Reinhard Gentner, Timothy Edmunds, Dinesh K. Pai, Andrea d'Avella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During visuomotor adaptation a novel mapping between visual targets and motor commands is gradually acquired. How muscle activation patterns are affected by this process is an open question. We tested whether the structure of muscle synergies is preserved during adaptation to a visuomotor rotation. Eight subjects applied targeted isometric forces on a handle instrumented with a force transducer while electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from 13 shoulder and elbow muscles. The recorded forces were mapped into horizontal displacements of a virtual sphere with simulated mass, elasticity, and damping. The task consisted of moving the sphere to a target at one of eight equally spaced directions. Subjects performed three baseline blocks of 32 trials, followed by six blocks with a 45° CW rotation applied to the planar force, and finally three wash-out blocks without the perturbation. The sphere position at 100 ms after movement onset revealed significant directional error at the beginning of the rotation, a gradual learning in subsequent blocks, and aftereffects at the beginning of the wash-out. The change in initial force direction was closely related to the change in directional tuning of the initial EMG activity of most muscles. Throughout the experiment muscle synergies extracted using a non-negative matrix factorization algorithm from the muscle patterns recorded during the baseline blocks could reconstruct the muscle patterns of all other blocks with an accuracy significantly higher than chance indicating structural robustness. In addition, the synergies extracted from individual blocks remained similar to the baseline synergies throughout the experiment. Thus synergy structure is robust during visuomotor adaptation suggesting that changes in muscle patterns are obtained by rotating the directional tuning of the synergy recruitment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120
JournalFrontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Issue numberSEP
Publication statusPublished - Sep 3 2013


  • Directional tuning
  • EMG
  • Isometric force
  • Motor adaptation
  • Muscle synergies
  • Visuomotor rotation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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