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J Neurophysiol. 1997 May;77(5):2585-604.

Fast-to-slow conversion following chronic low-frequency activation of medial gastrocnemius muscle in cats. I. Muscle and motor unit properties.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


This study of cat medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscle and motor unit (MU) properties tests the hypothesis that the normal ranges of MU contractile force, endurance, and speed are directly associated with the amount of neuromuscular activity normally experienced by each MU. We synchronously activated all MUs in the MG muscle with the same activity (20 Hz in a 50% duty cycle) and asked whether conversion of whole muscle contractile properties is associated with loss of the normal heterogeneity in MU properties. Chronically implanted cuff electrodes on the nerve to MG muscle were used for 24-h/day stimulation and for monitoring progressive changes in contractile force, endurance, and speed by periodic recording of maximal isometric twitch and tetanic contractions under halothane anesthesia. Chronic low-frequency stimulation slowed muscle contractions and made them weaker, and increased muscle endurance. The most rapid and least variable response to stimulation was a decline in force output of the muscle and constituent MUs. Fatigue resistance increased more slowly, whereas the increase in time to peak force varied most widely between animals and occurred with a longer time course than either force or endurance. Changes in contractile force, endurance, and speed of the whole MG muscle accurately reflected changes in the properties of the constituent MUs both in extent and time course. Normally there is a 100-fold range in tetanic force and a 10-fold range in fatigue indexes and twitch time to peak force. After chronic stimulation, the range in these properties was significantly reduced and, even in MU samples from single animals, the range was shown to correspond with the slow (type S) MUs of the normal MG. In no case was the range reduced to less than the type S range. The same results were obtained when the same chronic stimulation pattern of 20 Hz/50% duty cycle was imposed on paralyzed muscles after hemisection and unilateral deafferentation. The findings that the properties of MUs still varied within the normal range of type S MUs and were still heterogeneous despite a decline in the variance in any one property indicate that the neuromuscular activity can account only in part for the wide range of muscle properties. It is concluded that the normal range of properties within MU types reflects an intrinsic regulation of properties in the multinucleated muscle fibers.

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