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A Synergy-Based Hand Control is Encoded in Human Motor Cortical Areas

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How the human brain controls hand movements to carry out different tasks is still debated. The concept of synergy has been proposed to indicate functional modules that may simplify the control of hand postures by simultaneously recruiting sets of muscles

How the human brain controls hand movements to carry out different tasks is still debated. The concept of synergy has been proposed to indicate functional modules that may simplify the control of hand postures by simultaneously recruiting sets of muscles and joints. However, whether and to what extent synergic hand postures are encoded as such at a cortical level remains unknown. Here, we combined kinematic, electromyography, and brain activity measures obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging while subjects performed a variety of movements towards virtual objects. Hand postural information, encoded through kinematic synergies, were represented in cortical areas devoted to hand motor control and successfully discriminated individual grasping movements, significantly outperforming alternative somatotopic or muscle-based models. Importantly, hand postural synergies were predicted by neural activation patterns within primary motor cortex. These findings support a novel cortical organization for hand movement control and open potential applications for brain-computer interfaces and neuroprostheses.

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Date Created
2016-02-15

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Neural Bases of Hand Synergies

Description

The human hand has so many degrees of freedom that it may seem impossible to control. A potential solution to this problem is “synergy control” which combines dimensionality reduction with great flexibility. With applicability to a wide range of tasks,

The human hand has so many degrees of freedom that it may seem impossible to control. A potential solution to this problem is “synergy control” which combines dimensionality reduction with great flexibility. With applicability to a wide range of tasks, this has become a very popular concept. In this review, we describe the evolution of the modern concept using studies of kinematic and force synergies in human hand control, neurophysiology of cortical and spinal neurons, and electromyographic (EMG) activity of hand muscles. We go beyond the often purely descriptive usage of synergy by reviewing the organization of the underlying neuronal circuitry in order to propose mechanistic explanations for various observed synergy phenomena. Finally, we propose a theoretical framework to reconcile important and still debated concepts such as the definitions of “fixed” vs. “flexible” synergies and mechanisms underlying the combination of synergies for hand control.

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Date Created
2013-04-08

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Effects of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on Adaptation of Multi-Digit Forces to Object Mass Distribution for Whole-Hand Manipulation

Description

Background: Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a compression neuropathy of the median nerve that results in sensorimotor deficits in the hand. Until recently, the effects of CTS on hand function have been studied using mostly two-digit grip tasks. The purpose of

Background: Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a compression neuropathy of the median nerve that results in sensorimotor deficits in the hand. Until recently, the effects of CTS on hand function have been studied using mostly two-digit grip tasks. The purpose of this study was to investigate the coordination of multi-digit forces as a function of object center of mass (CM) during whole-hand grasping.

Methods: Fourteen CTS patients and age- and gender-matched controls were instructed to grasp, lift, hold, and release a grip device with five digits for seven consecutive lifts while maintaining its vertical orientation. The object CM was changed by adding a mass at different locations at the base of the object. We measured forces and torques exerted by each digit and object kinematics and analyzed modulation of these variables to object CM at object lift onset and during object hold. Our task requires a modulation of digit forces at and after object lift onset to generate a compensatory moment to counteract the external moment caused by the added mass and to minimize object tilt.

Results: We found that CTS patients learned to generate a compensatory moment and minimized object roll to the same extent as controls. However, controls fully exploited the available degrees of freedom (DoF) in coordinating their multi-digit forces to generate a compensatory moment, i.e., digit normal forces, tangential forces, and the net center of pressure on the finger side of the device at object lift onset and during object hold. In contrast, patients modulated only one of these DoFs (the net center of pressure) to object CM by modulating individual normal forces at object lift onset. During object hold, however, CTS patients were able to modulate digit tangential force distribution to object CM.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that, although CTS did not affect patients’ ability to perform our manipulation task, it interfered with the modulation of specific grasp control variables. This phenomenon might be indicative of a lower degree of flexibility of the sensorimotor system in CTS to adapt to grasp task conditions.

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Date Created
2012-11-21

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Are Movement Disorders and Sensor Motor Injuries Pathologic Synergies? When Normal Multi-Joint Movement Synergies Become Pathologic

Description

The intact nervous system has an exquisite ability to modulate the activity of multiple muscles acting at one or more joints to produce an enormous range of actions. Seemingly simple tasks, such as reaching for an object or walking, in

The intact nervous system has an exquisite ability to modulate the activity of multiple muscles acting at one or more joints to produce an enormous range of actions. Seemingly simple tasks, such as reaching for an object or walking, in fact rely on very complex spatial and temporal patterns of muscle activations. Neurological disorders such as stroke and focal dystonia affect the ability to coordinate multi-joint movements. This article reviews the state of the art of research of muscle synergies in the intact and damaged nervous system, their implications for recovery and rehabilitation, and proposes avenues for research aimed at restoring the nervous system’s ability to control movement.

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Date Created
2015-01-06

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Learned Manipulation at Unconstrained Contacts Does Not Transfer Across Hands

Description

Recent studies about sensorimotor control of the human hand have focused on how dexterous manipulation is learned and generalized. Here we address this question by testing the extent to which learned manipulation can be transferred when the contralateral hand is

Recent studies about sensorimotor control of the human hand have focused on how dexterous manipulation is learned and generalized. Here we address this question by testing the extent to which learned manipulation can be transferred when the contralateral hand is used and/or object orientation is reversed. We asked subjects to use a precision grip to lift a grip device with an asymmetrical mass distribution while minimizing object roll during lifting by generating a compensatory torque. Subjects were allowed to grasp anywhere on the object’s vertical surfaces, and were therefore able to modulate both digit positions and forces. After every block of eight trials performed in one manipulation context (i.e., using the right hand and at a given object orientation), subjects had to lift the same object in the second context for one trial (transfer trial).

Context changes were made by asking subjects to switch the hand used to lift the object and/or rotate the object 180° about a vertical axis. Therefore, three transfer conditions, hand switch (HS), object rotation (OR), and both hand switch and object rotation (HS+OR), were tested and compared with hand matched control groups who did not experience context changes. We found that subjects in all transfer conditions adapted digit positions across multiple transfer trials similar to the learning of control groups, regardless of different changes of contexts. Moreover, subjects in both HS and HS+OR group also adapted digit forces similar to the control group, suggesting independent learning of the left hand. In contrast, the OR group showed significant negative transfer of the compensatory torque due to an inability to adapt digit forces. Our results indicate that internal representations of dexterous manipulation tasks may be primarily built through the hand used for learning and cannot be transferred across hands.

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Date Created
2014-09-18

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Sensorimotor Control of Gait: A Novel Approach for the Study of the Interplay of Visual and Proprioceptive Feedback

Description

Sensorimotor control theories propose that the central nervous system exploits expected sensory consequences generated by motor commands for movement planning, as well as online sensory feedback for comparison with expected sensory feedback for monitoring and correcting, if needed, ongoing motor

Sensorimotor control theories propose that the central nervous system exploits expected sensory consequences generated by motor commands for movement planning, as well as online sensory feedback for comparison with expected sensory feedback for monitoring and correcting, if needed, ongoing motor output. In our study, we tested this theoretical framework by quantifying the functional role of expected vs. actual proprioceptive feedback for planning and regulation of gait in humans. We addressed this question by using a novel methodological approach to deliver fast perturbations of the walking surface stiffness, in conjunction with a virtual reality system that provided visual feedback of upcoming changes of surface stiffness. In the “predictable” experimental condition, we asked subjects to learn associating visual feedback of changes in floor stiffness (sand patch) during locomotion to quantify kinematic and kinetic changes in gait prior to and during the gait cycle. In the “unpredictable” experimental condition, we perturbed floor stiffness at unpredictable instances during the gait to characterize the gait-phase dependent strategies in recovering the locomotor cycle. For the “unpredictable” conditions, visual feedback of changes in floor stiffness was absent or inconsistent with tactile and proprioceptive feedback. The investigation of these perturbation-induced effects on contralateral leg kinematics revealed that visual feedback of upcoming changes in floor stiffness allows for both early (preparatory) and late (post-perturbation) changes in leg kinematics. However, when proprioceptive feedback is not available, the early responses in leg kinematics do not occur while the late responses are preserved although in a, slightly attenuated form. The methods proposed in this study and the preliminary results of the kinematic response of the contralateral leg open new directions for the investigation of the relative role of visual, tactile, and proprioceptive feedback on gait control, with potential implications for designing novel robot-assisted gait rehabilitation approaches.

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Created

Date Created
2015-02-09

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Communication and Inference of Intended Movement Direction During Human-Human Physical Interaction

Description

Of particular interest to the neuroscience and robotics communities is the understanding of how two humans could physically collaborate to perform motor tasks such as holding a tool or moving it across locations. When two humans physically interact with each

Of particular interest to the neuroscience and robotics communities is the understanding of how two humans could physically collaborate to perform motor tasks such as holding a tool or moving it across locations. When two humans physically interact with each other, sensory consequences and motor outcomes are not entirely predictable as they also depend on the other agent’s actions. The sensory mechanisms involved in physical interactions are not well understood. The present study was designed (1) to quantify human–human physical interactions where one agent (“follower”) has to infer the intended or imagined—but not executed—direction of motion of another agent (“leader”) and (2) to reveal the underlying strategies used by the dyad. This study also aimed at verifying the extent to which visual feedback (VF) is necessary for communicating intended movement direction. We found that the control of leader on the relationship between force and motion was a critical factor in conveying his/her intended movement direction to the follower regardless of VF of the grasped handle or the arms. Interestingly, the dyad’s ability to communicate and infer movement direction with significant accuracy improved (>83%) after a relatively short amount of practice. These results indicate that the relationship between force and motion (interpreting as arm impedance modulation) may represent an important means for communicating intended movement direction between biological agents, as indicated by the modulation of this relationship to intended direction. Ongoing work is investigating the application of the present findings to optimize communication of high-level movement goals during physical interactions between biological and non-biological agents.

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Created

Date Created
2017-04-13

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Postural Hand Synergies During Environmental Constraint Exploitation

Description

Humans are able to intuitively exploit the shape of an object and environmental constraints to achieve stable grasps and perform dexterous manipulations. In doing that, a vast range of kinematic strategies can be observed. However, in this work we formulate

Humans are able to intuitively exploit the shape of an object and environmental constraints to achieve stable grasps and perform dexterous manipulations. In doing that, a vast range of kinematic strategies can be observed. However, in this work we formulate the hypothesis that such ability can be described in terms of a synergistic behavior in the generation of hand postures, i.e., using a reduced set of commonly used kinematic patterns. This is in analogy with previous studies showing the presence of such behavior in different tasks, such as grasping. We investigated this hypothesis in experiments performed by six subjects, who were asked to grasp objects from a flat surface. We quantitatively characterized hand posture behavior from a kinematic perspective, i.e., the hand joint angles, in both pre-shaping and during the interaction with the environment. To determine the role of tactile feedback, we repeated the same experiments but with subjects wearing a rigid shell on the fingertips to reduce cutaneous afferent inputs. Results show the persistence of at least two postural synergies in all the considered experimental conditions and phases. Tactile impairment does not alter significantly the first two synergies, and contact with the environment generates a change only for higher order Principal Components. A good match also arises between the first synergy found in our analysis and the first synergy of grasping as quantified by previous work. The present study is motivated by the interest of learning from the human example, extracting lessons that can be applied in robot design and control. Thus, we conclude with a discussion on implications for robotics of our findings.

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Date Created
2017-08-29

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Proof of Concept of an Online EMG-Based Decoding of Hand Postures and Individual Digit Forces for Prosthetic Hand Control

Description

Introduction: Options currently available to individuals with upper limb loss range from prosthetic hands that can perform many movements, but require more cognitive effort to control, to simpler terminal devices with limited functional abilities. We attempted to address this issue

Introduction: Options currently available to individuals with upper limb loss range from prosthetic hands that can perform many movements, but require more cognitive effort to control, to simpler terminal devices with limited functional abilities. We attempted to address this issue by designing a myoelectric control system to modulate prosthetic hand posture and digit force distribution.

Methods: We recorded surface electromyographic (EMG) signals from five forearm muscles in eight able-bodied subjects while they modulated hand posture and the flexion force distribution of individual fingers. We used a support vector machine (SVM) and a random forest regression (RFR) to map EMG signal features to hand posture and individual digit forces, respectively. After training, subjects performed grasping tasks and hand gestures while a computer program computed and displayed online feedback of all digit forces, in which digits were flexed, and the magnitude of contact forces. We also used a commercially available prosthetic hand, the i-Limb (Touch Bionics), to provide a practical demonstration of the proposed approach’s ability to control hand posture and finger forces.

Results: Subjects could control hand pose and force distribution across the fingers during online testing. Decoding success rates ranged from 60% (index finger pointing) to 83–99% for 2-digit grasp and resting state, respectively. Subjects could also modulate finger force distribution.

Discussion: This work provides a proof of concept for the application of SVM and RFR for online control of hand posture and finger force distribution, respectively. Our approach has potential applications for enabling in-hand manipulation with a prosthetic hand.

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Created

Date Created
2017-02-01

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Improving Fine Control of Grasping Force During Hand–Object Interactions for a Soft Synergy-Inspired Myoelectric Prosthetic Hand

Description

The concept of postural synergies of the human hand has been shown to potentially reduce complexity in the neuromuscular control of grasping. By merging this concept with soft robotics approaches, a multi degrees of freedom soft-synergy prosthetic hand [SoftHand-Pro (SHP)]

The concept of postural synergies of the human hand has been shown to potentially reduce complexity in the neuromuscular control of grasping. By merging this concept with soft robotics approaches, a multi degrees of freedom soft-synergy prosthetic hand [SoftHand-Pro (SHP)] was created. The mechanical innovation of the SHP enables adaptive and robust functional grasps with simple and intuitive myoelectric control from only two surface electromyogram (sEMG) channels. However, the current myoelectric controller has very limited capability for fine control of grasp forces. We addressed this challenge by designing a hybrid-gain myoelectric controller that switches control gains based on the sensorimotor state of the SHP. This controller was tested against a conventional single-gain (SG) controller, as well as against native hand in able-bodied subjects. We used the following tasks to evaluate the performance of grasp force control: (1) pick and place objects with different size, weight, and fragility levels using power or precision grasp and (2) squeezing objects with different stiffness. Sensory feedback of the grasp forces was provided to the user through a non-invasive, mechanotactile haptic feedback device mounted on the upper arm. We demonstrated that the novel hybrid controller enabled superior task completion speed and fine force control over SG controller in object pick-and-place tasks. We also found that the performance of the hybrid controller qualitatively agrees with the performance of native human hands.

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Created

Date Created
2018-01-10