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Muscle Nerve. 2008 May;37(5):650-8.

Effect of muscle-fiber velocity recovery function on motor unit action potential properties in voluntary contractions.

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Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction, Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Fredrik Bajers Vej 7 D-3, DK-9220 Aalborg, Denmark.


Measurements of muscle-fiber conduction velocity during voluntary contractions have been used in the diagnosis of neuromuscular diseases. However, the velocity of propagation of action potentials depends on the interspike interval of activation due to the velocity recovery function (VRF) of muscle fibers. The comparison of muscle-fiber conduction velocity estimates between individuals may thus be influenced by differences in motor unit discharge rate. This study investigates action potential properties of motor units of the sternocleidomastoid muscle during voluntary modulation of discharge rate with the purpose of assessing the effect of the VRF on motor unit properties in voluntary contractions. Nineteen healthy men trained to control a target motor unit with feedback of surface multichannel electromyographic (EMG) signals. The subjects performed three 30-s contractions of cervical flexion/rotation modulating the discharge rate of the target motor unit from 6.6 +/- 1.6 pps to 28.0 +/- 6.4 pps. Action potential conduction velocity was correlated to instantaneous discharge rate (R = 0.38 +/- 0.21). Action potential conduction velocity, peak-to-peak amplitude, and duration varied between minimum and maximum discharge rate (P < 0.01; percent change 12.3 +/- 5.0, -11.8 +/- 9.9, and -12.9 +/- 7.3). Thus, the properties of surface motor unit action potentials vary with modulation of discharge rate. This has implications for the use of conduction velocity values measured during voluntary contractions to differentiate patient populations from healthy individuals and for the development of normative data.

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