Research ArticlePROSTHETICS

On prosthetic control: A regenerative agonist-antagonist myoneural interface

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Science Robotics  31 May 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 6, eaan2971
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aan2971

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Abstract

Prosthetic limb control is fundamentally constrained by the current amputation procedure. Since the U.S. Civil War, the external prosthesis has benefited from a pronounced level of innovation, but amputation technique has not significantly changed. During a standard amputation, nerves are transected without the reintroduction of proper neural targets, causing painful neuromas and rendering efferent recordings infeasible. Furthermore, the physiological agonist-antagonist muscle relationships are severed, precluding the generation of musculotendinous proprioception, an afferent feedback modality critical for joint stability, trajectory planning, and fine motor control. We establish an agonist-antagonist myoneural interface (AMI), a unique surgical paradigm for amputation. Regenerated free muscle grafts innervated with transected nerves are linked in agonist-antagonist relationships, emulating the dynamic interactions found within an intact limb. Using biomechanical, electrophysiological, and histological evaluations, we demonstrate a viable architecture for bidirectional signaling with transected motor nerves. Upon neural activation, the agonist muscle contracts, generating electromyographic signal. This contraction in the agonist creates a stretch in the mechanically linked antagonist muscle, producing afferent feedback, which is transmitted through its motor nerve. Histological results demonstrate regeneration and the presence of the spindle fibers responsible for afferent signal generation. These results suggest that the AMI will not only produce robust signals for the efferent control of an external prosthesis but also provide an amputee’s central nervous system with critical musculotendinous proprioception, offering the potential for an enhanced prosthetic controllability and sensation.

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