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Exp Physiol. 1996 Sep;81(5):805-19.

The influence of age on the assessment of motor unit activation in a human hand muscle.

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  • 1Department of Exercise & Sport Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA.


Two indices of motor unit recruitment, the ramp-force and repetitive-discharge thresholds, were compared in the first dorsal interosseus muscle of ten young and twelve elderly subjects. The purpose was to determine the effect of age on the relationship between the two recruitment thresholds and the spike-triggered average force of motor units. Each subject performed three tasks requiring isometric abduction of the left index finger: a maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), a ramp-and-hold contraction, and a repetitive-discharge task. The elderly subjects used coactivation of the antagonist muscle (second palmar interosseus) more frequently than the young subjects during the ramp-and-hold contraction. Many elderly subjects expressed difficulty with the controlled ramp-down phase of the ramp-and-hold contraction and preferred a coactivation strategy to a derecruitment strategy for this task. There were no differences due to age or gender in the ramp-force thresholds between the various groups. However, the normalized repetitive-discharge threshold was significantly less for the younger subjects and for the male subjects. Nonetheless, the two recruitment thresholds were able to predict the spike-triggered average force with similar success for both the young and the elderly subjects. These data suggest that the recruitment threshold of a motor unit in first dorsal interosseus was characterized equally well by either the ramp-force or repetitive-discharge measurement for both young and elderly subjects but that coactivation was used more frequently by the elderly subjects during the ramp-and-hold task.

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