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Exp Neurol. 1985 Jun;88(3):484-99.

Electromechanical changes during electrically induced and maximal voluntary contractions: surface and intramuscular EMG responses during sustained maximal voluntary contraction.


Changes in the electrical activity of the human gastrocnemius and soleus muscles during fatiguing maximal plantar flexions were studied with computer-aided EMG frequency power spectral analysis and intramuscular spike amplitude-frequency histogram analysis. In some experiments, brief supramaximal nerve stimulations of 80 Hz were given at 15-s intervals during sustained maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs). Multiple muscle biopsy samples were also obtained from the gastrocnemius muscle for fiber type determination. The surface EMG frequency spectral analysis showed a highly significant reduction in mean power frequency and root mean square EMG amplitude during sustained MVCs. The intramuscular spike amplitude-frequency histograms showed that the gastrocnemius muscle had a progressive reduction in the motor unit discharge frequency, particularly those with a relatively high amplitude, whereas the soleus muscle hardly showed a reduction in motor unit activity. Reduction in motor unit activity was also found to be more pronounced in gastrocnemius muscles with higher proportions of type II fibers. Brief maximal tetanic stimulations initially matching the MVC failed to increase the contraction force. Similarly, the evoked compound mass action potentials showed little change in the amplitude in subjects with different muscle fiber compositions. Results of this study suggest that during sustained MVCs, force fatigue could not be attributed to a failure of muscle membrane electrical propagation; a progressive reduction in motor unit activation does not result in a functional disadvantage, but may optimize excitation-contraction coupling by avoiding a muscle electrical conduction failure; and the extent of the reduction in motor unit activation seems to be muscle-fiber-type-dependent which may account for the reduction in amplitude and frequency of the surface EMG.

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