A comparison of human thenar motor-unit properties studied by intraneural motor-axon stimulation and spike-triggered averaging

Christine K Thomas, B. Bigland-Ritchie, G. Westling, R. S. Johansson

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1. Measurements of twitch contractile properties of human motor units recorded by spike-triggered averaging may be distorted by partial fusion between twitches, because motor units seldom fire at rates below 8-10 Hz. The effects of this fusion were examined by comparing the responses of 27 human thenar motor units when their motor axons were stimulated at 1, 8, and 10 Hz. 2. Resultant forces were calculated from the abduction and flexion force components, together with various contraction and relaxation rate indexes as reported previously. Values for single twitches were compared to measurements made from the unfused force fluctuations ('apparent twitches') of the same units recorded during 8 and 10 Hz stimulation. 3. For all units, stimulation at 8 and 10 Hz caused partial twitch fusion. At 10 Hz, mean values for 'apparent twitch' forces, contraction times (CT), and one-half relaxation times ( 1/2 RT) were reduced to 44, 76, and 52% of the corresponding values measured from separate twitches evoked by 1 Hz stimulation. Similar but smaller reductions were seen at 8 Hz. 4. Slow units, with initial twitch CT > 60 ms, showed significantly more distortion of all 'apparent twitch' parameters when stimulated at both 8 and 10 Hz, compared to fast units (< 50 ms). 5. The potentiated abduction force component data were compared with abduction forces obtained previously by spike-triggered averaging from the same muscle group. Mean force obtained by spike-triggered averaging ('STA twitch' force; 21 mN) was significantly larger than that measured in abduction in response to either 1 or 10 Hz motor-axon stimulation (14 mN, 6 mN, respectively). The corresponding STA twitch and 1 Hz CT were 69 and 53 ms, respectively. 6. The surprising finding that values obtained by spike-triggered averaging were not reduced, compared to twitch data (1 Hz stimulation), suggests that factors other than twitch fusion and potentiation must influence measurements made by spike-triggered averaging. It is possible that 'STA twitch' forces and CT may be exaggerated by undetected amounts of synchrony between firing rates of different units. They may also be influenced by recording from an actively contracting muscle compared to stimulating a single unit in an otherwise relaxed muscle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1351
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1990


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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