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Neurology. 1996 May;46(5):1387-90.

Activity-dependent conduction in single motor units.

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  • 1Neurophysiology Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Vertebrate sensory and motor axons vary in their responses to submaximal stimuli as a function of time since prior activation. When two equal but submaximal stimuli are presented in pairs, the response to the second stimulus may be greater or less than the response to the first stimulus, depending on the interstimulus interval (ISI). We studied both the supernormal period (ISI between 6 and 25 msec) and the subnormal period (ISI between 25 and 100 msec) under conditions where only single motor axons were stimulated. Twenty single motor units from eight normal subjects were studied. The behavior of single units was very similar to that observed in compound motor action potentials, with the supernormal period lasting approximately 20 msec, followed by a subnormal period lasting at least 80 msec. Surprisingly, a supernormal period could be evoked by a stimulus that did not produce a response in the motor unit being studied; however, the presence of subnormality was dependent on an action potential being generated in response to the first stimulus. Based on these results, we conclude that the supernormal period does not require the opening of voltage-dependent ion channels, in contrast to the later occurring subnormal period.

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