When moving an object, the motor system estimates the dynamic properties of the object and then controls the movement using a combination of predictive feedforward control and proprioceptive feedback. In this study, we examined how the feed-forward and proprioceptive feedback processes depend on the expected movement task. Subjects made fast elbow flexion movements from an initial position to a target. The experimental protocol included movements made over a short and a long distance against an expected light or heavy inertial load. In each task in a few randomly chosen trials, a motor applied an unexpected viscous load that produced a velocity error, defined as the difference between the expected and unexpected velocities, and electromyographic (EMG) responses. The EMG responses appeared not earlier than 170-250 ms from the agonist EMG onset. Our main finding is that the onset of the EMG responses was correlated with the expected time of peak velocity, which increased for longer distances and larger loads. An analysis of the latency of the EMG responses with respect to the velocity error suggested that the EMG responses were due to segmental reflexes. We conclude that segmental reflex gains are centrally modulated with the time course dependent on the expected movement task. According to this view, the control of fast point-to-point movement is feedforward from the agonist EMG onset until the expected time of peak velocity after which the segmental reflex feedback is briefly facilitated.
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