Muscle spindle thixotropy affects force perception through afferent-induced facilitation of the motor pathways as revealed by the Kohnstamm effect
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This study was designed to explore the effects of intrafusal thixotropy, a property affecting muscle spindle sensitivity, on the sense of force. For this purpose, psychophysical measurements of force perception were performed using an isometric force matching paradigm of elbow flexors consisting of matching different force magnitudes (5, 10 and 20% of subjects’ maximal voluntary force). We investigated participants’ capacity to match these forces after their indicator arm had undergone voluntary isometric conditioning contractions known to alter spindle thixotropy, i.e., contractions performed at long (‘hold long’) or short muscle lengths (‘hold short’). In parallel, their reference arm was conditioned at the intermediate muscle length (‘hold-test’) at which the matchings were performed. The thixotropy hypothesis predicts that estimation errors should only be observed at low force levels (up to 10% of the maximal voluntary force) with overestimation of the forces produced following ‘hold short’ conditioning and underestimation following ‘hold long’ conditioning. We found the complete opposite, especially following ‘hold-short’ conditioning where subjects underestimated the force they generated with similar relative error magnitudes across force levels. In a second experiment, we tested the hypothesis that estimation errors depended on the degree of afferent-induced facilitation using the Kohnstamm phenomenon as a probe of motor pathway excitability. Because the stronger post-effects were observed following ‘hold-short’ conditioning, it appears that the conditioning-induced excitation of spindle afferents leads to force misjudgments by introducing a decoupling between the central effort and the cortical motor outputs.
KeywordsSense of force Sense of effort Proprioception Thixotropy Muscle spindles Kohnstamm effect
The authors wish to thank all the subjects for their cooperation and Maximilien Bowen for technical assistance.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.
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