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J Physiol. 1994 Oct 15;480 ( Pt 2):369-87.

Human spinal lateralization assessed from motoneurone synchronization: dependence on handedness and motor unit type.

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  • 1Laboratory of Physiologie et Physiopathologie Neuromusculaire Humaine, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique-Neurobiologie et Mouvements, Marseille, France.


1. Motoneurone synchronization as a means of investigating synaptic connectivity was studied in the extensor carpi radialis muscles of the preferred and non-preferred arms of healthy right- and left-handed human subjects. The activities of pairs of motor units recorded during voluntary isometric contractions were analysed by cross-correlation to detect any synchronous motor unit firing in the form of central peaks in the cross-correlation histograms. 2. The synchronization peaks were compared first in the case of 273 motor unit pairs tested in the preferred and non-preferred arms of two left-handed subjects and two right-handed subjects. The percentage of synchronized motor unit pairs was found to be significantly higher in the preferred arm with synchronization peaks significantly larger and broader than in the non-preferred arm. The narrow peaks (< 7.5 ms) likely to reflect the activity of common inputs to motoneurones were also found to be significantly larger in the preferred arm of all four subjects. 3. The handedness-related differences in synchronization were definitely confirmed in a total of 275 pairs of motor units tested in the left extensor carpi radialis muscles of fourteen right-handed subjects using their non-preferred arm and six left-handed subjects using their preferred arm. In order to determine whether the differences in synchronization were dependent on the motor unit type, each motor unit was characterized on the basis of its recruitment threshold and on the basis of the contraction time of its twitch extracted from the overall muscle force using the spike-triggered averaging method. Two populations of motor units were distinguished, namely the 'slow' motor units (recruitment thresholds < 0.4 N, contraction times > 40 ms) and the 'fast' motor units (recruitment thresholds > 0.6 N, contraction times < or = 40 ms). 4. In the non-preferred arm, the synchronization peaks were always fairly narrow, whatever the motor unit's biomechanical properties; whereas in the preferred arm, broad peaks were found to be particularly common among the pairs including one or two fast motor units, which also showed the largest rate of synchronization occurrence. 5. The narrow peaks (< 7.5 ms) were found to be consistently larger in the preferred than the non-preferred arm whatever the categories of motor unit pairs. In both arms, however, the amplitude of the narrow peaks tended to increase as the recruitment threshold of the motor unit decreased and as their contraction time increased.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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