Reflex electromyographic (EMG) muscle responses were recorded from abductor pollicis brevis (APB) and tibialis anterior (TA) muscles of fifty patients with spastic hemiplegia. Responses in the muscles were evoked during voluntary muscle contraction (about 20% of maximum voluntary effort) by submaximal but suprathreshold electrical stimulation of the median (at the wrist) and common peroneal (at the neck of the fibula) nerves respectively. Three EMG peaks (R1, R2 and R3) could be recorded after the direct muscle response (M). There was only a slight difference in R1-R2 latency interval of about 5 ms between upper and lower limbs on the unaffected side of the patients making it unlikely that this late response of the lower limb involves a long loop pathway, although this possibility cannot be discounted for the later, R3, response. Reflex behaviour was analysed for three clinical identifiable recovery stages of voluntary movements in the spastic limbs (synergistic, isolated and useful movements). The major finding was that an increase in the amplitude of the early response "R1" was associated with a decreased amplitude and delayed latency of the late response "R2" on the spastic side. The amplitude of R1 in the three different recovery stages decreased significantly, whereas the amplitude of R2 increased significantly with improvement of the functional stage of the limb. A significant negative linear correlation was found between R1 and R2 amplitude changes in upper as well as lower limbs. A refractoriness of the motor neuron pool as a possible explanation for the decreased R2 amplitude could be discounted. These findings together with recent work on reflex development in children support the hypothesis of reciprocal modulation of early and late reflex signals by supraspinal motor centers.
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