Information decomposition of multichannel EMG to map functional interactions in the distributed motor system

Tjeerd W. Boonstra*, Luca Faes, Jennifer N. Kerkman, Daniele Marinazzo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The central nervous system needs to coordinate multiple muscles during postural control. Functional coordination is established through the neural circuitry that interconnects different muscles. Here we used multivariate information decomposition of multichannel EMG acquired from 14 healthy participants during postural tasks to investigate the neural interactions between muscles. A set of information measures were estimated from an instantaneous linear regression model and a time-lagged VAR model fitted to the EMG envelopes of 36 muscles. We used network analysis to quantify the structure of functional interactions between muscles and compared them across experimental conditions. Conditional mutual information and transfer entropy revealed sparse networks dominated by local connections between muscles. We observed significant changes in muscle networks across postural tasks localized to the muscles involved in performing those tasks. Information decomposition revealed distinct patterns in task-related changes: unimanual and bimanual pointing were associated with reduced transfer to the pectoralis major muscles, but an increase in total information compared to no pointing, while postural instability resulted in increased information, information transfer and information storage in the abductor longus muscles compared to normal stability. These findings show robust patterns of directed interactions between muscles that are task-dependent and can be assessed from surface EMG recorded during static postural tasks. We discuss directed muscle networks in terms of the neural circuitry involved in generating muscle activity and suggest that task-related effects may reflect gain modulations of spinal reflex pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116093
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Early online date9 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2019


TB was supported by a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council ( FT180100622 ). JK was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO 016.156.346 awarded to Nadia Dominici) and thanks Nadia Dominci and Andreas Daffertshofer for their supervision. The computational resources (Stevin Supercomputer Infrastructure) and services used in this work were provided by the VSC (Flemish Supercomputer Center), funded by Ghent University , FWO and the Flemish Government – department EWI . We thank Frederik van de Steen for helping to set up the analyses on said infrastructure. Appendix A

FundersFunder number
Flemish Government – department EWI
Flemish Supercomputer Center
Australian Research CouncilFT180100622
Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek016.156.346
Universiteit Gent


    • Functional connectivity
    • Muscle networks
    • Postural control
    • Spinal reflex
    • Transfer entropy


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