Co-contraction modifies the stretch reflex elicited in muscles shortened by a joint perturbation

Gwyn N. Lewis, Colum D. MacKinnon, Randy Trumbower, Eric J. Perreault

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29 Scopus citations


Simultaneous contraction of agonist and antagonist muscles acting about a joint influences joint stiffness and stability. Although several studies have shown that reflexes in the muscle lengthened by a joint perturbation are modulated during co-contraction, little attention has been given to reflex regulation in the antagonist (shortened) muscle. The goal of the present study was to determine whether co-contraction gives rise to altered reflex regulation across the joint by examining reflexes in the muscle shortened by a joint perturbation. Reflexes were recorded from electromyographic activity in elbow flexors and extensors while positional perturbations to the elbow joint were applied. Perturbations were delivered during isolated activation of the flexor or extensor muscles as well as during flexor and extensor co-contraction. Across the group, the shortening reflex in the elbow extensor switched from suppression during isolated extensor muscle activation to facilitation during co-contraction. The shortening reflex in the elbow flexor remained suppressive during co-contraction but was significantly smaller compared to the response obtained during isolated elbow flexor activation. This response in the shortened muscle was graded by the level of activation in the lengthened muscle. The lengthening reflex did not change during co-contraction. These results support the idea that reflexes are regulated across multiple muscles around a joint. We speculate that the facilitatory response in the shortened muscle arises through a fast-conducting oligosynaptic pathway involving Ib interneurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-48
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank TiVany Ceja for her technical assistance and Krista Settle for her contributions to data collection. The project was supported by NIH grant R01 NS053813 to EJP and a fellowship from the Brinson Foundation awarded to GNL.


  • Co-contraction
  • Shortening reaction
  • Stretch reflex
  • Upper limb


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