Upper limb proprioceptive sensitivity in three-dimensional space: effects of direction, posture, and exogenous neuromodulation
Proprioception is the sense of body position, movement, force, and effort. Loss of proprioception can affect planning and control of limb and body movements, negatively impacting activities of daily living and quality of life. Assessments employing planar robots have shown that proprioceptive sensitivity is directionally dependent within the horizontal plane however, few studies have looked at proprioceptive sensitivity in 3d space. In addition, the extent to which proprioceptive sensitivity is modifiable by factors such as exogenous neuromodulation is unclear. To investigate proprioceptive sensitivity in 3d we developed a novel experimental paradigm employing a 7-DoF robot arm, which enables reliable testing of arm proprioception along arbitrary paths in 3d space, including vertical motion which has previously been neglected. A participant’s right arm was coupled to a trough held by the robot that stabilized the wrist and forearm, allowing for changes in configuration only at the elbow and shoulder. Sensitivity to imposed displacements of the endpoint of the arm were evaluated using a “same/different” task, where participant’s hands were moved 1-4 cm from a previously visited reference position. A measure of sensitivity (d’) was compared across 6 movement directions and between 2 postures. For all directions, sensitivity increased monotonically as the distance from the reference location increased. Sensitivity was also shown to be anisotropic (directionally dependent) which has implications for our understanding of the planning and control of reaching movements in 3d space.
The effect of neuromodulation on proprioceptive sensitivity was assessed using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which has been shown to have beneficial effects on human cognitive and sensorimotor performance in other contexts. In this pilot study the effects of two frequencies (30hz and 300hz) and three electrode configurations were examined. No effect of electrode configuration was found, however sensitivity with 30hz stimulation was significantly lower than with 300hz stimulation (which was similar to sensitivity without stimulation). Although TENS was shown to modulate proprioceptive sensitivity, additional experiments are required to determine if TENS can produce enhancement rather than depression of sensitivity which would have positive implications for rehabilitation of proprioceptive deficits arising from stroke and other disorders.