1. The role of sensory information in shaping muscle activation patterns to postural in humans was investigated by varying velocity, amplitude, or duration of the perturbing stimulus. Ten normal subjects were exposed to 120 backward translations of the support surface under conditions of varying velocities (10-35 cm/s, constant amplitude), varying amplitudes (1.2-12 cm, constant velocity), or varying durations (40-800 ms). The effects of perturbation parameters on movement kinematics and EMG latencies, patterns, and integrated areas and six trunk and leg muscles were examined. Integrated EMG activity was normalized across subjects and the early (first 75 ms), middle (second 75 ms), and late (last 350 ms) components were analyzed separately. 2. Ankle, knee, and hip angle trajectories and surface reactive forces suggest that a relatively consistent movement strategy was scaled to the perturbation velocities and amplitudes applied. 3. Short-duration perturbations (75 ms) evoked a single burst of muscle activity (75-100 ms duration) in gastrocnemius, hamstrings, paraspinal, and rectus abdominis muscles at latencies too long to be explained by simple stretch reflexes. EMG latencies, patterns, and integrated areas were independent of the velocity and amplitude of the short-duration perturbations, suggesting a minimal time to incorporate peripheral velocity information into the triggered response. 4. For translations lasting longer than 75 ms, the integrated areas of the early agonist EMG bursts were positively correlated with stimulus velocity. The integrated area of later, more tonic EMG components were best correlated with stimulus amplitude. These relationships were found in both distal (stretched) muscles and in proximal muscles. Absolute latencies (94-145 ms), intersegmental latencies (18-29 ms), and burst durations (75-100 ms) were not influenced by the velocity or amplitude of the stimulus. 5. These results suggest that the spatial and temporal organization of automatic postural responses may be organized independently of response intensity. Within a particular spatial-temporal pattern, the amount of muscle activation appears to be adjusted by sensory information, which specifies velocity and amplitude of the perturbation.
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