Few studies have analyzed activity-induced changes in EMG activity in individual human motor units. We studied the changes in human thenar motor unit EMG that accompany the potentiation of twitch force and fatigue of tetanic force. Single motor unit EMG and force were recorded in healthy subjects in response to selective stimulation of their motor axons within the median nerve just above the elbow. Twitches were recorded before and after a series of pulse trains delivered at frequencies that varied between 5 and 100 Hz. This stimulation induced significant increases in EMG amplitude, duration, and area. However, in relative terms, all of these EMG changes were substantially smaller than the potentiation of twitch force. Another 2 min of stimulation (13 pulses at 40 Hz each second) induced additional potentiation of EMG amplitude, duration, and area, but the tetanic force from every unit declined. Thus activity-induced changes in human thenar motor unit EMG do not indicate the alterations in force or vice versa. These data suggest that different processes underlie the changes in EMG and force that occur during human thenar motor unit activity.
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