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Operant Conditioning of EMG Evoked Potential Workshop

March 20 through 22, 2019

All Workshop Applicants Must Be Members of the NC NM4R Community.

Once you have joined our community, apply to attend the Level 2 Workshop.

This workshop is free of charge to all accepted applicants. Due to our funding by United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development under award number P2CHD086844, we must restrict admission to the workshops to those applicants who are affiliated with US-based institutions and who are eligible to receive NIH funding.


Operant conditioning is a powerful method to induce behavioral learning. Through operant conditioning, modification of a behavior is brought about by the consequence of that behavior. Since the first time Wolpaw and his colleagues demonstrated that the spinal stretch reflex can be changed through operant conditioning more than 30 years ago, variations of operant conditioning protocols have been applied to the stretch reflex or its electrical analog, the H-reflex, in monkeys, rats, mice, and humans, and repeatedly confirmed that a specific change (i.e., up- or down-regulation) can be induced in the activity of a targeted reflex pathway. Because a spinal reflex pathway serves many different movements and skills, the plasticity induced through operant conditioning can affect many motor skills in which the conditioned pathway participates. In fact, appropriate reflex conditioning can improve walking in rats and people with partial spinal cord injuries. Thus, it should be possible to facilitate/improve function recovery in other movement disorders and in other populations through operant conditioning.

Workshop participants demonstrating Operant Conditioning of EMG-evoked potential

Human operant conditioning protocols are completely non-invasive (although it is possible to include invasive procedures should there be a need for them) and can be applied to many different spinal reflexes and EMG evoked potentials (e.g., motor evoked potential to transcranial magnetic stimulation). Because these protocols can change the function of specific neural pathways, they can be designed to address the specific functional deficits of an individual with CNS disorder. Operant conditioning protocols may be combined with other rehabilitation methods, in order to enhance functional recovery. Successful applications require appropriate designing of a protocol and close adherence to designed procedures, as well as close attention to accommodating and engaging the individual subject in the conditioning process. The goal of this workshop is to provide participants with hands-on opportunities to learn and practice the fundamentals of human operant conditioning protocols. In hope to inspire different directions of conditioning applications, participants will be exposed to several different variations of conditioning protocols.

Learning Objectives

  • Acquire the essential knowledge about operant conditioning of EMG evoked potentials in people.
  • Become familiar with the H-reflex testing procedures.
  • Learn how to obtain an H-reflex and M-wave recruitment curve.
  • Understand the different H-reflex recruitment curves in different muscles.
  • Learn what influence the H-reflex size (e.g., background EMG, antagonist activity, posture, and tasks).
  • Learn the standard protocol for operant conditioning of the soleus H-reflex in people.
  • Practice the soleus H-reflex operant conditioning session protocol.
  • Learn non-invasive methods to study spinal inhibition.
  • Learn different variations of EMG evoked potential operant conditioning protocols.
  • Practice the soleus H-reflex operant conditioning session protocol (realize the importance of reproducibility of the H-reflex testing procedure).
  • Learn and practice TMS-MEP operant conditioning session protocol.
  • Learn and practice different variations of operant conditioning session protocols.


  • Operant conditioning of EMG evoked potentials – essential knowledge (interactive lecture).
  • H-reflex testing and nerve stimulation (demonstration, hands-on experiment)
    • Modulation of the H-reflex experiments (demonstration, hands-on experiment).
    • Effects of background EMG activity levels on the soleus H-reflex amplitude.
    • Effects of the antagonist muscle activity on the soleus H-reflex amplitude.
    • Task-dependent and phase-dependent modulation of the soleus H-reflex during walking.
    • H-reflex and M-wave recruitment curve measurement (incl., which part of the recruitment curve should be studied in a plasticity study, and meaning of measuring the maximum M- wave).
    • H-reflex and M-wave recruitment curves in different muscles.
  • Learning to run the soleus H-reflex operant conditioning session (demonstration, hands-on experiment).
  • Learning the conditioning-test stimulation paradigms for studying spinal pre- and post-synaptic inhibition (demonstration).
  • Learning to run the soleus stretch reflex operant conditioning session, the reciprocal inhibition conditioning session, and/or the flexor carpi radialis H-reflex operant conditioning session (demonstration, hands-on experiment).
  • Reproducing the soleus H-reflex operant conditioning session (hands-on experiment).
  • Learning to run the MEP operant conditioning session (operant conditioning of the tibialis anterior motor evoked potential to transcranial magnetic stimulation) (demonstration, hands-on experiment).
  • Learning to use an operant conditioning paradigm for conditioning other EMG evoked potential (i.e., flexor carpi radialis H-reflex, soleus stretch reflex, or reciprocal inhibition of the soleus) (hands-on experiment).

The National Center for Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation (NC NM4R) is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award number P2CHD086844. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.