To characterize muscle synergy organization underlying multidirectional control of stance posture, electromyographic activity was recorded from 11 lower limb and trunk muscles of 7 healthy subjects while they were subjected to horizontal surface translations in 12 different, randomly presented directions. The latency and amplitude of muscle responses were quantified for each perturbation direction. Tuning curves for each muscle were examined to relate the amplitude of the muscle response to the direction of surface translation. The latencies of responses for the shank and thigh muscles were constant, regardless of perturbation direction. In contrast, the latencies for another thigh [tensor fascia latae (TFL)] and two trunk muscles [rectus abdominis (RAB) and erector spinae (ESP)] were either early or late, depending on the perturbation direction. These three muscles with direction- specific latencies may play different roles in postural control as prime movers or as stabilizers for different translation directions, depending on the timing of recruitment. Most muscle tuning curves were within one quadrant, having one direction of maximal activity, generally in response to diagonal surface translations. Two trunk muscles (RAB and ESP) and two lower limb muscles (semimembranosus and peroneus longus) had bipolar tuning curves, with two different directions of maximal activity, suggesting that these muscle can play different roles as part of different synergies, depending on translation direction. Muscle tuning curves tended to group into one of three regions in response to 12 different directions of perturbations. Two muscles [rectus femoris (RFM) and TFL] were maximally active in response to lateral surface translations. The remaining muscles clustered into one of two diagonal regions. The diagonal regions corresponded to the two primary directions of active horizontal force vector responses. Two muscles (RFM and adductor longus) were maximally active orthogonal to their predicted direction of maximal activity based on anatomic orientation. Some of the muscles in each of the synergic regions were not anatomic synergists, suggesting a complex central organization for recruitment of muscles. The results suggest that neither a simple reflex mechanism nor a fixed muscle synergy organization is adequate to explain the muscle activation patterns observed in this postural control task. Our results are consistent with a centrally mediated pattern of muscle latencies combined with peripheral influence on muscle magnitude. We suggest that a flexible continuum of muscle synergies that are modifiable in a task-dependent manner be used for equilibrium control in stance.
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