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J Neurosci. 1997 Mar 1;17(5):1734-47.

Tension distribution of single motor units in multitendoned muscles: comparison of a homologous digit muscle in cats and monkeys.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York, 14642.


To determine whether single motor units (MUs) in multitendoned muscles distribute tension to multiple tendons or instead focus tension selectively on a single tendon, we examined the distribution of tension generated by single MUs in the cat extensor digitorum lateralis (EDLat), and in its macaque homolog, the extensor digiti quarti et quinti (ED45). General properties of MUs (maximal tetanic tension, axonal conduction velocity, and twitch rise time) were similar in these muscles to those reported for other limb muscles in cats and monkeys. Most cat EDLat MUs were found to exert tension rather selectively on one of the three tendons of the muscle. Fast fatigable MUs were slightly but significantly more selective than fast fatigue-resistant and slow MUs. In contrast, and contrary to expectation, the macaque ED45 contained a lower proportion of MUs that exerted tension selectively on one of the two tendons of the muscle, and a higher proportion of relatively nonselective MUs. These findings suggest that the cat EDLat may consist of three functional subdivisions, each acting preferentially on a different tendon, whereas the macaque ED45 is more likely to function as a single multitendoned muscle.

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