The mechanical actions of muscles predict the direction of muscle activation during postural perturbations in the cat hindlimb

Claire F. Honeycutt, T. Richard Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Humans and cats respond to balance challenges, delivered via horizontal support surface perturbations, with directionally selective muscle recruitment and constrained ground reaction forces. It has been suggested that this postural strategy arises from an interaction of limb biomechanics and proprioceptive networks in the spinal cord. A critical experimental validation of this hypothesis is to test the prediction that the principal directions of muscular activation oppose the directions responding muscles exert their forces on the environment. Therefore, our objective was to quantify the endpoint forces of a diverse set of cat hindlimb muscles and compare them with the directionally sensitive muscle activation patterns generated in the intact and decerebrate cat. We hypothesized that muscles are activated based on their mechanical advantage. Our primary expectation was that the principal direction of muscle activation during postural perturbations will be directed oppositely (180°) from the muscle endpoint ground reaction force. We found that muscle activation during postural perturbations was indeed directed oppositely to the endpoint reaction forces of that muscle. These observations indicate that muscle recruitment during balance challenges is driven, at least in part, by limb architecture. This suggests that sensory sources that provide feedback about the mechanical environment of the limb are likely important to appropriate and effective responses during balance challenges. Finally, we extended the analysis to three dimensions and different stance widths, laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive study of postural regulation than was possible with measurements confined to the horizontal plane and a single stance configuration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)900-907
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Autogenic feedback
  • Balance
  • Decerebrate cat
  • Ground reaction force
  • Posture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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