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Structure, function, and control of the human musculoskeletal network.

ABSTRACT

The human body is a complex organism, the gross mechanical properties of which are enabled by an interconnected musculoskeletal network controlled by the nervous system. The nature of musculoskeletal interconnection facilitates stability, voluntary movement, and robustness to injury. However, a fundamental understanding of this network and its control by neural systems has remained elusive. Here we address this gap in knowledge by utilizing medical databases and mathematical modeling to reveal the organizational structure, predicted function, and neural control of the musculoskeletal system. We constructed a highly simplified whole-body musculoskeletal network in which single muscles connect to multiple bones via both origin and insertion points. We demonstrated that, using this simplified model, a muscle's role in this network could offer a theoretical prediction of the susceptibility of surrounding components to secondary injury. Finally, we illustrated that sets of muscles cluster into network communities that mimic the organization of control modules in primary motor cortex. This novel formalism for describing interactions between the muscular and skeletal systems serves as a foundation to develop and test therapeutic responses to injury, inspiring future advances in clinical treatments.