Evidence for a supraspinal contribution to the human quadriceps long-latency stretch reflex

N Mrachacz-Kersting, M J Grey, T Sinkjaer

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In sitting humans a rapid unexpected lengthening of the knee extensors elicits a stretch reflex (SR) response as recorded by the electromyogram (EMG) which comprises multiple bursts. These are termed short latency responses (SLR), medium latency responses (MLR) and long latency responses (LLR). The aim of this study was to determine if a transcortical pathway contributes to any of these bursts. Flexion perturbations (amplitude =4 degrees, velocity=150 degrees/s) were imposed on the right knee joint of sitting subjects (n=11). The effect of the perturbation on the electromyographic (EMG) response of the pre-contracted quadriceps muscle to magnetic stimulation of the contralateral motor cortex was quantified. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied to elicit a compound motor evoked potential (MEP) in the target muscle rectus femoris (RF), in the vastus lateralis (VL), vastus medialis (VM) and biceps femoris (BF). The MEP and SR were elicited either in combination or separately. When applied in combination the delay between the SR and the MEP varied from 0 to 150 ms in steps of 4, 5 and 10 ms. Somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) were recorded from four subjects during the imposed stretch to quantify the latency of the resulting afferent volley. Onset latencies of responses in RF were 25+/-2 ms for the SR and 20+/-4 ms for the MEP. The average SEP latency was 24+/-2 ms. A transcortical pathway thus has the potential to contribute to the RF SR no earlier than 54+/-6 ms (SEP + MEP + 10 ms central processing delay) following the stretch onset. The duration of the total reflex burst was 85+/-6 ms. Significant facilitation of the MEP commenced at 78 ms, coinciding with the LLR component of the stretch response. No such facilitation was observed in the synergists VL and VM, or in the antagonist BF. Our results indicate that the LLR of the RF likely involves supraspinal pathways. More importantly, of the investigated muscles, this involvement of higher centers in the shaping of the LLR is specific to the RF muscle during the investigated task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-540
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Early online date21 Oct 2005
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


  • Human
  • Stretch reflex
  • Cortical contribution
  • Quadriceps muscle

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