Coordination amongst quadriceps muscles suggests neural regulation of internal joint stresses, not simplification of task performance

Cristiano Alessandro, Filipe O. Barroso, Adarsh Prashara, David P. Tentler, Hsin Yun Yeh, Matthew C. Tresch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Many studies have demonstrated covariation between muscle activations during behavior, suggesting that muscles are not controlled independently. According to one common proposal, this covariation reflects simplification of task performance by the nervous system so that muscles with similar contributions to task variables are controlled together. Alternatively, this covariation might reflect regulation of low-level aspects of movements that are common across tasks, such as stresses within joints. We examined these issues by analyzing covariation patterns in quadriceps muscle activity during locomotion in rats. The three monoarticular quadriceps muscles (vastus medialis [VM], vastus lateralis [VL], and vastus intermedius [VI]) produce knee extension and so have identical contributions to task performance; the biarticular rectus femoris (RF) produces an additional hip flexion. Consistent with the proposal that muscle covariation is related to similarity of muscle actions on task variables, we found that the covariation between VM and VL was stronger than their covariations with RF. However, covariation between VM and VL was also stronger than their covariations with VI. Since all vastii have identical actions on task variables, this finding suggests that covariation between muscle activity is not solely driven by simplification of overt task performance. Instead, the preferentially strong covariation between VM and VL is consistent with the control of internal joint stresses: Since VM and VL produce opposing mediolateral forces on the patella, the high positive correlation between their activation minimizes the net mediolateral patellar force. These results provide important insights into the interpretation of muscle covariations and their role in movement control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8135-8142
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 7 2020


  • Joint mechanics
  • Motor control
  • Muscle synergy
  • Quadriceps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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