Superposition and modulation of muscle synergies for reaching in response to a change in target location

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We have recently shown that the muscle patterns for reaching are well described by the combination of a few time-varying muscle synergies supporting the notion of a modular architecture for arm control. Here we investigated whether the muscle patterns for reaching movements involving online corrections are also generated by the combination of the same set of time-varying muscle synergies used for point-to-point movements. We recorded endpoint kinematics and EMGs from up to 16 arm muscles of 5 subjects reaching from a central location to 8 peripheral targets in the frontal plane, from each peripheral target to 1 of the 2 adjacent targets, and from the central location initially to 1 peripheral target and, after a delay of either 50, 150, or 250 ms from the go signal, to 1 of the 2 adjacent targets. Time-varying muscle synergies were extracted from the averaged, phasic, normalized EMGs of point-to-point movements and fit to the patterns of target change movements using an iterative optimization algorithm. In all subjects, three time-varying muscle synergies explained a large fraction of the data variation of point-to-point movements. The superposition and modulation of the same three synergies reconstructed the muscle patterns for target change movements better than the superposition and modulation of the corresponding point-to-point muscle patterns, appropriately aligned. While at the kinematic level the corrective trajectory for reaching during a change in target location can be obtained by the delayed superposition of the trajectory from the initial to the final target, at the muscle level the underlying phasic muscle patterns are captured by the amplitude and timing modulation of the same time-varying muscle synergies recruited for point-to-point movements. These results suggest that a common modular architecture is used for the control of unperturbed arm movement and for its visually guided online corrections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2796-2812
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • Arm
  • Double-step paradigm
  • Electromyography
  • Motor control
  • Timevarying decomposition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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