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J Neurophysiol. 2004 Aug;92(2):734-42. Epub 2004 Mar 31.

Short-term synchronization between motor units in different functional subdivisions of the human flexor digitorum profundus muscle.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Box 673, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


The ability to independently move the digits is limited by peripheral as well as central factors. A central limitation to independent finger movements might arise from the inability of the human nervous system to activate motor units (MUs) that exert force on one finger without also activating MUs that exert force on adjacent fingers. Short-term synchronization between MU pairs is thought to be the result of the two motoneurons receiving common input from last-order neuronal projections. The human flexor digitorum profundus (FDP) muscle contains four subdivisions, one for each of the fingers. We hypothesized that the distribution of MU synchrony within and between subdivisions of FDP might parallel the ability to selectively activate different functional subdivisions within FDP, and the ability to flex one digit independently of another. We found that the degree of MU synchrony indeed was not uniform among the different functional subdivisions of FDP; MUs acting on ulnar digits (d5, d4) were more synchronized than MUs acting on radial digits (d2, d3). Furthermore, synchrony was observed between MU pairs where each unit acted on a different digit and was highest when both units of a pair acted on the least-independent digits (d4, d5). This indicates that the CNS does not exert completely independent control over the different functional subdivisions of FDP. The strength of synchrony appears related to the inability to produce completely independent forces or movements with the digits. These observations reflect widespread divergence of last-order inputs within the FDP motoneuron pool, and we suggest that the organization of the CNS drive to this muscle contributes to the limited ability of humans to flex one digit in isolation from other digits.

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