Neck rotation modulates flexion synergy torques, indicating an ipsilateral reticulospinal source for impairment in stroke

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The effect of reticular formation excitability on maximum voluntary torque (MVT) generation and associated muscle activation at the shoulder and elbow was investigated through natural elicitation (active head rotation) of the asymmetric tonic neck reflex (ATNR) in 26 individuals with stroke and 9 agerange-matched controls. Isometric MVT generation at the shoulder and elbow was quantified with the head rotated (face pointing) contralateral and ipsilateral to the paretic (stroke) and dominant (control) arm. Given the dominance of abnormal torque coupling of elbow flexion with shoulder abduction (flexion synergy) in stroke and welldeveloped animal models demonstrating a linkage between reticular formation and ipsilateral elbow flexors and shoulder abductors, we hypothesized that constituent torques of flexion synergy, specifically elbow flexion and shoulder abduction, would increase with contralateral head rotation. The findings of this investigation support this hypothesis. Increases in MVT for three of four flexion synergy constituents (elbow flexion, shoulder abduction, and shoulder external rotation) were observed during contralateral head rotation only in individuals with stroke. Electromyographic data of the associated muscle coactivations were nonsignificant but are presented for consideration in light of a likely underpowered statistical design for this specific variable. This study not only provides evidence for the reemergence of ATNR following stroke but also indicates a common neuroanatomical link, namely, an increased reliance on ipsilateral reticulospinal pathways, as the likely mechanism underlying the expression of both ATNR and flexion synergy that results in the loss of independent joint control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3096-3104
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


  • Asymmetric tonic neck reflex
  • Flexion synergy
  • Strength
  • Tonic neck reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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