We tested a hypothesis that fatigue of an element (a finger) leads to an adaptive neural strategy that involves an increase in force variability in the other finger(s) and an increase in co-variation of commands to fingers to keep total force variability relatively unchanged. We tested this hypothesis using a system with small redundancy (two fingers) and a marginally redundant system (with an additional constraint related to the total moment of force produced by the fingers, unstable condition). The subjects performed isometric accurate rhythmic force production tasks by the index (I) finger and two fingers (I and middle, M) pressing together before and after a fatiguing exercise by the I finger. Fatigue led to a large increase in force variance in the I-finger task and a smaller increase in the IM-task. We quantified two components of variance in the space of hypothetical commands to fingers, finger modes. Under both stable and unstable conditions, there was a large increase in the variance component that did not affect total force and a much smaller increase in the component that did. This resulted in an increase in an index of the force-stabilizing synergy. These results indicate that marginal redundancy is sufficient to allow the central nervous system to use adaptive increase in variability to shield important variables from effects of fatigue. We offer an interpretation of these results based on a recent development of the equilibrium-point hypothesis known as the referent configuration hypothesis.
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