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In standing, coordinated activation of lower extremity muscles can be simplified by common neural inputs to muscles comprising a functional synergy. We examined the effect of task difficulty on common inputs to agonist-agonist (AG-AG) pairs supporting direction specific reciprocal muscle control and agonist-antagonist (AG-ANT) pairs supporting stiffness control. Since excessive stiffness is energetically costly and limits the flexibility of responses to perturbations, compared to AG-ANT, we expected greater AG-AG common inputs and a larger increase with increasing task difficulty. We used coherence analysis to examine common inputs in three frequency ranges which reflect subcortical/spinal (0-5 and 6-15 Hz) and corticospinal inputs (6-15 and 16-40 Hz). Coherence was indeed higher in AG-AG compared to AG-ANT muscles in all three frequency bands, indicating a predilection for functional synergies supporting reciprocal rather than stiffness control. Coherence increased with increasing task difficulty, only in AG-ANT muscles in the low frequency band (0-5 Hz), reflecting subcortical inputs and only in AG-AG group in the high frequency band (16-40 Hz), reflecting corticospinal inputs. Therefore, common neural inputs to both AG-AG and AG-ANT muscles increase with difficulty but are likely driven by different sources of input to spinal alpha motor neurons.

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Sci Rep

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