Modifying upper-limb inter-joint coordination in healthy subjects by training with a robotic exoskeleton

Abstract : Background: The possibility to modify the usually pathological patterns of coordination of the upper-limb in stroke survivors remains a central issue and an open question for neurorehabilitation. Despite robot-led physical training could potentially improve the motor recovery of hemiparetic patients, most of the state-of-the-art studies addressing motor control learning, with artificial virtual force fields, only focused on the end-effector kinematic adaptation, by using planar devices. Clearly, an interesting aspect of studying 3D movements with a robotic exoskeleton, is the possibility to investigate the way the human central nervous system deals with the natural upper-limb redundancy for common activities like pointing or tracking tasks. Methods: We asked twenty healthy participants to perform 3D pointing or tracking tasks under the effect of inter-joint velocity dependant perturbing force fields, applied directly at the joint level by a 4-DOF robotic arm exoskeleton. These fields perturbed the human natural inter-joint coordination but did not constrain directly the end-effector movements and thus subjects capability to perform the tasks. As a consequence, while the participants focused on the achievement of the task, we unexplicitly modified their natural upper-limb coordination strategy. We studied the force fields direct effect on pointing movements towards 8 targets placed in the 3D peripersonal space, and we also considered potential generalizations on 4 distinct other targets. Post-effects were studied after the removal of the force fields (wash-out and follow up). These effects were quantified by a kinematic analysis of the pointing movements at both end-point and joint levels, and by a measure of the final postures. At the same time, we analysed the natural inter-joint coordination through PCA. Results: During the exposition to the perturbative fields, we observed modifications of the subjects movement kinematics at every level (joints, end-effector, and inter-joint coordination). Adaptation was evidenced by a partial decrease of the movement deviations due to the fields, during the repetitions, but it occurred only on 21% of the motions. Nonetheless post-effects were observed in 86% of cases during the wash-out and follow up periods (right after the removal of the perturbation by the fields and after 30 minutes of being detached from the exoskeleton). Important inter-individual differences were observed but with small variability within subjects. In particular, a group of subjects showed an overshoot with respect to the original unexposed trajectories (in 30% of cases), but the most frequent consequence (in 55% of cases) was the partial persistence of the modified upper-limb coordination, adopted at the time of the perturbation. Temporal and spatial generalizations were also evidenced by the deviation of the movement trajectories, both at the end-effector and at the intermediate joints and the modification of the final pointing postures towards targets which were never exposed to any field.
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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, BioMed Central, 2017, 14, pp.55. 〈10.1186/s12984-017-0254-x〉
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Tommaso Proietti, Emmanuel Guigon, Agnès Roby-Brami, Nathanael Jarrasse. Modifying upper-limb inter-joint coordination in healthy subjects by training with a robotic exoskeleton. Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, BioMed Central, 2017, 14, pp.55. 〈10.1186/s12984-017-0254-x〉. 〈hal-01556759〉

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