Poston, B., Danna-Dos Santos, A., Jesunathadas, M., Hamm, T. M., Santello, M.
The ability to modulate digit forces during grasping relies on the coordination of multiple hand muscles. Because many muscles innervate each digit, the CNS can potentially choose from a large number of muscle coordination patterns to generate a given digit force. Studies of single-digit force production tasks have revealed that the electromyographic (EMG) activity scales uniformly across all muscles as a function of digit force. However, the extent to which this finding applies to the coordination of forces across multiple digits is unknown. We addressed this question by asking subjects (n = 8) to exert isometric forces using a three-digit grip (thumb, index, and middle fingers) that allowed for the quantification of hand muscle coordination within and across digits as a function of grasp force (5, 20, 40, 60, and 80% maximal voluntary force). We recorded EMG from 12 muscles (6 extrinsic and 6 intrinsic) of the three digits. Hand muscle coordination patterns were quantified in the amplitude and frequency domains (EMG–EMG coherence). EMG amplitude scaled uniformly across all hand muscles as a function of grasp force (muscle x force interaction: P = 0.997; cosines of angle between muscle activation pattern vector pairs: 0.897–0.997). Similarly, EMG–EMG coherence was not significantly affected by force (P = 0.324). However, coherence was stronger across extrinsic than that across intrinsic muscle pairs (P = 0.0039). These findings indicate that the distribution of neural drive to multiple hand muscles is force independent and may reflect the anatomical properties or functional roles of hand muscle groups.