Loss of proprioception produces deficits in interjoint coordination

R. L. Sainburg, H. Poizner, C. Ghez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

371 Scopus citations


1. We analyzed the performance of a simple pantomimed gesture in 2 patients with large-fiber sensory neuropathy and 11 control subjects to determine how proprioceptive deafferentation disrupts unconstrained multijoint movements. Both patients had near-total loss of joint position, vibration, and discriminative touch sensation in the upper extremities. Muscle strength remained intact. 2. Subjects performed a gesture similar to slicing a loaf of bread. In this gesture, the hand first moves outward from the body, reverses direction sharply, and then moves back toward the body. Accurate performance requires precise coordination between the shoulder and elbow joints during movement reversals. Movements were performed under two conditions: with eyes open and with eyes closed. Three dimensional shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand trajectories were recorded on a WATSMART system. 3. When control subjects performed the gesture with their eyes closed, their wrist trajectories were relatively straight and individual cycles of motion were planar. Movements reversed direction sharply, such that outward and inward portions of the wrist path were closely aligned. Corresponding to this spatial profile, the reversals in movement direction at the shoulder joint, from flexion to extension, and at the elbow joint, from extension to flexion, were synchronous. 4. In contrast, when deafferented patients performed the gesture with their eyes closed, their wrist trajectories were highly curved and individual cycles were severely nonplanar. The wrist paths showed a characteristic anomaly during the reversal in movement direction, when elbow joint movement became transiently locked. Correspondingly, the movement reversals at the shoulder and elbow joints were severely temporally decoupled. 5. When patients were able to view their limbs during performance of this gesture there was significant improvement in the linearity and planarity of movements. However, the patients remained unable to synchronize the movements at the shoulder and elbow joints to produce spatially precise wrist paths. 6. We conclude that loss of proprioception disrupts interjoint coordination and discuss the hypothesis that this interjoint coordination deficit results from a failure to control the interaction forces that arise between limb segments during multijoint movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2136-2147
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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