Shared and specific muscle synergies in natural motor behaviors

Andrea D'Avella, Emilio Bizzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Selecting the appropriate muscle pattern to achieve a given goal is an extremely complex task because of the dimensionality of the search space and because of the nonlinear and dynamical nature of the transformation between muscle activity and movement. To investigate whether the central nervous system uses a modular architecture to achieve motor coordination we characterized the motor output over a large set of movements. We recorded electromyographic activity from 13 muscles of the hind limb of intact and freely moving frogs during jumping, swimming, and walking in naturalistic conditions. We used multidimensional factorization techniques to extract invariant amplitude and timing relationships among the muscle activations. A decomposition of the instantaneous muscle activations as combinations of nonnegative vectors, synchronous muscle synergies, revealed a spatial organization in the muscle patterns. A decomposition of the same activations as a combination of temporal sequences of nonnegative vectors, time-varying muscle synergies, further uncovered specific characteristics in the muscle activation waveforms. A mixture of synergies shared across behaviors and synergies for specific behaviors captured the invariances across the entire dataset. These results support the hypothesis that the motor controller has a modular organization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3076-3081
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Feb 22 2005


  • Factorization
  • Frog
  • Motor coordination
  • Muscle pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • Genetics


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