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Spontaneous muscle twitches during sleep guide spinal self-organization


During development, information about the three-dimensional shape and mechanical properties of the body is laid down in the synaptic connectivity of sensorimotor systems through unknown adaptive mechanisms. In spinal reflex systems, this enables the fast transformation of complex sensory information into adequate correction of movements. Here we use a computer simulation to show that an unsupervised correlation-based learning mechanism, using spontaneous muscle twitches, can account for the functional adaptation of the withdrawal reflex system. We also show that tactile feedback resulting from spontaneous muscle twitches during sleep1,2,3 does indeed modify sensorimotor transformation in young rats in a predictable manner. The results indicate that these twitches, corresponding to human fetal movements4, are important in spinal self-organization.

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Figure 1: Proposed organization of a reflex module.
Figure 2: Developmental adaptation of NWRs.
Figure 3: Simulated developmental adaptation of receptive fields for six muscles.
Figure 4: Behavioural experiments.


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We thank P. Nockhammar for technical assistance and M. Garwicz for constructive comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Per Petersson.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1 (PDF 328 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2 (PDF 15 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 4263 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 4140 kb)

Supplementary Movie 3: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 8433 kb)

Supplementary Movie 4: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 5870 kb)

Supplementary Movie 5: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 10252 kb)

Supplementary Movie 6: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 3383 kb)

Supplementary Movie 7: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 6604 kb)

Supplementary Movie 8: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 6283 kb)

Supplementary Movie 9: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 9665 kb)

Supplementary Movie 10: Muscle Stimulation (MPG 9564 kb)

Supplementary Movie 11: Sleeping Behaviour - Litter from above (MPG 11445 kb)

Supplementary Movie 12: Sleeping Behaviour - Litter from below (MPG 9316 kb)

Supplementary Movie 12: Sleeping Behaviour - Twitch (MPG 6898 kb)

Supplementary Movie 13: Spontaneous Single Muscle Twitch - Continuous recording (MPG 15300 kb)

Supplementary Movie 14: Spontaneous Single Muscle Twitch - Extensor digitorum longus (MPG 3092 kb)

Supplementary Movie 15: Spontaneous Single Muscle Twitch - Gastrocemius (MPG 4534 kb)

Supplementary Movie 16: Spontaneous Single Muscle Twitch - Localized (MPG 2275 kb)

Supplementary Movie 17: Spontaneous Single Muscle Twitch - Peroneus longus (MPG 1792 kb)

Programme code: Functions used in simulation (DOC 19 kb)

Programme code: Functions used in simulation (DOC 19 kb)

Programme code: Functions used in simulation (XLS 28 kb)

Programme code: Functions used in simulation - Paw (BMP 0 kb)

Programme code: Functions used in simulation (DOC 19 kb)

Programme code: Simulation used in paper (DOC 43 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 59 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 46 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: EMG (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 47 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 60 kb)

Programme code: Movement EMG Matrices: Movement (XLS 60 kb)

Supplementary Information (DOC 26 kb)

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Petersson, P., Waldenström, A., Fåhraeus, C. et al. Spontaneous muscle twitches during sleep guide spinal self-organization. Nature 424, 72–75 (2003).

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