Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



School of Medicine


Not Listed

Committee Chair

Valeriya Gritsenko

Committee Member

Sergiy Yakovenko

Committee Member

Jennifer Collinger

Committee Member

Kostantinos Sierros

Committee Member

Nicholas Brandmeir


Movement is a fundamental behavior that allows us to interact with the external world. Its importance to human health is most evident when it becomes impaired due to disease or injury. Physical and occupational rehabilitation remains the most common treatment for these types of disorders. Although therapeutic interventions may improve motor function, residual deficits are common for many pathologies, such as stroke. The development of novel therapeutics is dependent upon a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that govern movement. Movement of the human body adheres to the principles of classic Newtonian mechanics. However, due to the inherent complexity of the body and the highly variable repertoire of environmental contexts in which it operates, the musculoskeletal system presents a challenging control problem and the onus is on the central nervous system to reliably solve this problem. The neural motor system is comprised of numerous efferent and afferent pathways with a hierarchical organization which create a complex arrangement of feedforward and feedback circuits. However, the strategy that the neural motor system employs to reliably control these complex mechanics is still unknown. This dissertation will investigate the neural control of mechanics employing a “bottom-up” approach. It is organized into three research chapters with an additional introductory chapter and a chapter addressing final conclusions. Chapter 1 provides a brief description of the anatomical and physiological principles of the human motor system and the challenges and strategies that may be employed to control it. Chapter 2 describes a computational study where we developed a musculoskeletal model of the upper limb to investigate the complex mechanical interactions due to muscle geometry. Muscle lengths and moment arms contribute to force and torque generation, but the inherent redundancy of these actuators create a high-dimensional control problem. By characterizing these relationships, we found mechanical coupling of muscle lengths which the nervous system could exploit. Chapter 3 describes a study of muscle spindle contribution to muscle coactivation using a computational model of primary afferent activity. We investigated whether these afferents could contribute to motoneuron recruitment during voluntary reaching tasks in humans and found that afferent activity was orthogonal to that of muscle activity. Chapter 4 describes a study of the role of the descending corticospinal tract in the compensation of limb dynamics during arm reaching movements. We found evidence that corticospinal excitability is modulated in proportion to muscle activity and that the coefficients of proportionality vary in the course of these movements. Finally, further questions and future directions for this work are discussed in the Chapter 5.

Embargo Reason

Publication Pending

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