Evidence for constancy in the modularity of trunk muscle activity preceding reaching: Implications for the role of preparatory postural activity

Publication Name

Journal of Neurophysiology


Postural muscle activity precedes voluntary movements of the upper limbs. The traditional view of this activity is that it anticipates perturbations to balance caused by the movement of a limb. However, findings from reach-based paradigms have shown that postural adjustments can initiate center of mass displacement for mobility rather than minimize its displacement for stability. Within this context, altering reaching distance beyond the base of support would place increasing constraints on equilibrium during stance. If the underlying composition of anticipatory postural activity is linked to stability, coordination between muscles (i.e., motor modules) may evolve differently as equilibrium constraints increase. We analyzed the composition of motor modules in functional trunk muscles as participants performed multidirectional reaching movements to targets within and beyond the arm’s length. Bilateral trunk and reaching arm muscle activity were recorded. Despite different trunk requirements necessary for successful movement, and the changing biomechanical (i.e., postural) constraints that accompany alterations in reach distance, nonnegative matrix factorization identified functional motor modules derived from preparatory trunk muscle activity that shared common features. Relative similarity in modular weightings (i.e., composition) and spatial activation profiles that reflect movement goals across tasks necessitating differing levels of trunk involvement provides evidence that preparatory postural adjustments are linked to the same task priorities (i.e., movement generation rather than stability). NEW & NOTEWORTHY Reaching within and beyond arm’s length places different task constraints upon the required trunk motion necessary for successful movement execution. The identification of constant modular features, including functional muscle weightings and spatial tuning, lend support to the notion that preparatory postural adjustments of the trunk are tied to the same task priorities driving mobility, regardless of the future postural constraints.

Open Access Status

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Funding Number

R01 HD46922

Funding Sponsor

National Institutes of Health



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