Hand trajectory invariance in reaching movements involving the trunk

Sergei V. Adamovich, Philippe S. Archambault, Mohammad Ghafouri, Mindy F. Levin, Howard Poizner, Anatol G. Feldman

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86 Scopus citations


Movements of different body segments may be combined in different ways to achieve the same motor goal. How this is accomplished by the nervous system was investigated by having subjects make fast pointing movements with the arm in combination with a forward bending of the trunk that was unexpectedly blocked in some trials. Subjects moved their hand above the surface of a table without vision from an initial position near the midline of the chest to remembered targets placed within the reach of the arm in either the ipsi- or contralateral workspace. In experiment 1, subjects were instructed to make fast arm movements to the target without corrections whether or not the trunk was arrested. Only minor changes were found in the hand trajectory and velocity profile in response to the trunk arrest, and these changes were seen only late in the movement. In contrast, the patterns of the interjoint coordination substantially changed in response to the trunk arrest, suggesting the presence of compensatory arm-trunk coordination minimizing the deflections from the hand trajectory regardless of whether the trunk is recruited or mechanically blocked. Changes in the arm interjoint coordination in response to the trunk arrest could be detected kinematically at a minimal latency of 50 ms. This finding suggests a rapid reflex compensatory mechanism driven by vestibular and/or proprioceptive afferent signals. In experiment 2, subjects were required, as soon as they perceived the trunk arrest, to change the hand motion to the same direction as that of the trunk. Under this instruction, subjects were able to initiate corrections only after the hand approached or reached the final position. Thus, centrally mediated compensatory corrections triggered in response to the trunk arrest were likely to occur too late to maintain the observed invariant hand trajectory in experiment 1. In experiment 3, subjects produced similar pointing movements, but to a target that moved together with the trunk. In these body-oriented pointing movements, the hand trajectories from trials in which the trunk was moving or arrested were substantially different. The same trajectories represented in a relative frame of reference moving with the trunk were virtually identical. We conclude that hand trajectory invariance can be produced in an external spatial (experiment 1) or an internal trunk-centered (experiment 3) frame of reference. The invariance in the external frame of reference is accomplished by active compensatory changes in the arm joint angles nullifying the influence of the trunk motion on the hand trajectory. We suggest that to make a transition to the internal frame of reference, control systems suppress this compensation. One of the hypotheses opened to further experimental testing is that the integration of additional (trunk) degrees of freedom into movement is based on afferent (proprioceptive, vestibular) signals stemming from the trunk motion and transmitted to the arm muscles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-303
Number of pages16
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Compensatory arm-trunk coordination
  • Interjoint coordination
  • Movement synergies
  • Pointing
  • Transport component


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