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The Tendon Network of the Fingers Performs Anatomical Computation at a Macroscopic Scale

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6 Author(s)
Valero-Cuevas, F.J. ; Neuromuscular Biomech. Lab, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY ; Jae-Woong Yi ; Brown, D. ; McNamara, R.V.
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Current thinking attributes information processing for neuromuscular control exclusively to the nervous system. Our cadaveric experiments and computer simulations show, however, that the tendon network of the fingers performs logic computation to preferentially change torque production capabilities. How this tendon network propagates tension to enable manipulation has been debated since the time of Vesalius and DaVinci and remains an unanswered question. We systematically changed the proportion of tension to the tendons of the extensor digitorum versus the two dorsal interosseous muscles of two cadaver fingers and measured the tension delivered to the proximal and distal interphalangeal joints. We find that the distribution of input tensions in the tendon network itself regulates how tensions propagate to the finger joints, acting like the switching function of a logic gate that nonlinearly enables different torque production capabilities. Computer modeling reveals that the deformable structure of the tendon networks is responsible for this phenomenon; and that this switching behavior is an effective evolutionary solution permitting a rich repertoire of finger joint actuation not possible with simpler tendon paths. We conclude that the structural complexity of this tendon network, traditionally oversimplified or ignored, may in fact be critical to understanding brain-body coevolution and neuromuscular control. Moreover, this form of information processing at the macroscopic scale is a new instance of the emerging principle of nonneural "somatic logic" found to perform logic computation such as in cellular networks

Published in:

Biomedical Engineering, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:54 ,  Issue: 6 )

Date of Publication:

June 2007

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