Neural computations underlying the exertion of force: a model

We have developed a model that simulates possible mechanisms by which supraspinal neuronal signals coding forces could converge in the spinal cord and provide an ongoing integrated signal to the motoneuronal pools whose activation results in the exertion of force. The model consists of a three-layered neural network connected to a two-joint-six-muscle model of the arm. The network layers represent supraspinal populations, spinal cord interneurons, and motoneuronal pools. We propose an approach to train the network so that, after the synaptic connections between the layers are adjusted, the performance of the model is consistent with experimental data obtained on different organisms using different experimental paradigms: the stiffness characteristics of human arm; the structure of force fields generated by the stimulation of the frog's spinal cord; and a correlation between motor cortical activity and force exerted by monkey against an immovable object. The model predicts a specific pattern of connections between supraspinal populations coding forces and spinal cord interneurons: the weight of connection should be correlated with directional preference of interconnected units. Finally, our simulations demonstrate that the force generated by the sum of neural signals can be nearly equal to the vector sum of forces generated by each signal independently, in spite of the complex nonlinearities intervening between supraspinal commands and forces exerted by the arm in response to these commands.