Sensory integration of a light touch reference in human standing balance

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  • Sensorimotor Performance Lab, University of Constance


In upright stance, light touch of a space-stationary touch reference reduces spontaneous sway. Moving the reference evokes sway responses which exhibit non-linear behavior that has been attributed to sensory reweighting. Reweighting refers to a change in the relative contribution of sensory cues signaling body sway in space and light touch cues signaling finger position with respect to the body. Here we test the hypothesis that the sensory fusion process involves a transformation of light touch signals into the same reference frame as other sensory inputs encoding body sway in space, or vice versa. Eight subjects lightly gripped a robotic manipulandum which moved in a circular arc around the ankle joint. A pseudo-randomized motion sequence with broad spectral characteristics was applied at three amplitudes. The stimulus was presented at two different heights and therefore different radial distances, which were matched in terms of angular motion. However, the higher stimulus evoked a significantly larger sway response, indicating that the response was not matched to stimulus angular motion. Instead, the body sway response was strongly related to the horizontal translation of the manipulandum. The results suggest that light touch is integrated as the horizontal distance between body COM and the finger. The data were well explained by a model with one feedback loop minimizing changes in horizontal COM-finger distance. The model further includes a second feedback loop estimating the horizontal finger motion and correcting the first loop when the touch reference is moving. The second loop includes the predicted transformation of sensory signals into the same reference frame and a non-linear threshold element that reproduces the non-linear sway responses, thus providing a mechanism that can explain reweighting.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0197316
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2018