Patterns of neck muscle activation in cats during reflex and voluntary head movements

E. A. Keshner*, J. F. Baker, J. Banovetz, B. W. Peterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


When the head rotates, vestibulocollic reflexes counteract the rotation by causing contraction of the neck muscles that pull against the imposed motion. With voluntary head rotations, these same muscles contract and assist the movement of the head. The purpose of this study was to determine if an infinite variety of muscle activation patterns are available to generate a particular head movement, or if the CNS selects a consistent and unique muscle pattern for the same head movement whether performed in a voluntary or reflex mode. The relationship of neck muscle activity to reflex and voluntary head movements was examined by recording intramuscular EMG activity from six neck muscles in three alert cats during sinusoidal head rotations about 24 vertical and horizontal axes. The cats were trained to voluntarily follow a water spout with their heads. Vestibulocollic reflex (VCR) responses were recorded in the same cats by rotating them in an equivalent set of planes with the head stabilized to the trunk so that only the vestibular labyrinths were stimulated. Gain and phase of the EMG responses were calculated, and data analyzed to determine the directions of rotation for which specific muscles produced their greatest EMG output. Each muscle exhibited preferential activation for a unique direction of rotation, and weak responses during rotations orthogonal to that preferred direction. The direction of maximal activation could differ for reflex and voluntary responses. Also, the best excitation of the muscle was not always in the direction that would produce a maximum mechanical advantage for the muscle based on its line of pull. The results of this study suggest that a unique pattern of activity is selected for VCR and tracking responses in any one animal. Patterns for the two behaviors differ, indicating that the CNS can generate movements in the same direction using different muscle patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-374
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1992


  • Activation patterns
  • Central programs
  • Neck muscles
  • Vestibulocollic reflex
  • Voluntary tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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