The sense of force is critical in the control of movement and posture. Multiple factors influence our perception of exerted force, including inputs from cutaneous afferents, muscle afferents and central commands. Here, we studied the influence of cutaneous feedback on the control of ankle force output. We used repetitive electrical stimulation of the superficial peroneal (foot dorsum) and medial plantar nerves (foot sole) to disrupt cutaneous afferent input in 8 healthy subjects. We measured the effects of repetitive nerve stimulation on (1) tactile thresholds, (2) performance in an ankle force-matching and (3) an ankle position-matching task. Additional force-matching experiments were done to compare the effects of transient versus continuous stimulation in 6 subjects and to determine the effects of foot anesthesia using lidocaine in another 6 subjects. The results showed that stimulation decreased cutaneous sensory function as evidenced by increased touch threshold. Absolute dorsiflexion force error increased without visual feedback during peroneal nerve stimulation. This was not a general effect of stimulation because force error did not increase during plantar nerve stimulation. The effects of transient stimulation on force error were greater when compared to continuous stimulation and lidocaine injection. Position-matching performance was unaffected by peroneal nerve or plantar nerve stimulation. Our results show that cutaneous feedback plays a role in the control of force output at the ankle joint. Understanding how the nervous system normally uses cutaneous feedback in motor control will help us identify which functional aspects are impaired in aging and neurological diseases.
Experimental Brain Research, 2013, Vol 228, Issue 3, p. 377-384