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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Feb;107(3):958-65. doi: 10.1152/jn.00304.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

Low-frequency oscillations of the neural drive to the muscle are increased with experimental muscle pain.

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Department of Neurorehabilitation Engineering, Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology Göttingen, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, University Medical Center Göttingen, Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany.


We investigated the influence of nociceptive stimulation on the accuracy of task execution and motor unit spike trains during low-force isometric contractions. Muscle pain was induced by infusion of hypertonic saline into the abductor digiti minimi muscle of 11 healthy men. Intramuscular EMG signals were recorded from the same muscle during four isometric contractions of 60-s duration at 10% of the maximal force [maximal voluntary contraction (MVC)] performed before injection (baseline), after injection of isotonic (control) or hypertonic saline (pain), and 15 min after pain was no longer reported. Each contraction was preceded by three 3-s ramp contractions from 0% to 10% MVC. The low-frequency oscillations of motor unit spike trains were analyzed by the first principal component of the low-pass filtered spike trains [first common component (FCC)], which represents the effective neural drive to the muscle. Pain decreased the accuracy of task performance [coefficient of variation (CoV) for force: baseline, 2.8 ± 1.8%, pain, 3.9 ± 1.8%; P < 0.05] and reduced motor unit discharge rates [11.6 ± 2.3 pulses per second (pps) vs. 10.7 ± 1.7 pps; P < 0.05]. Motor unit recruitment thresholds (2.2 ± 1.2% MVC vs. 2.4 ± 1.6% MVC), interspike interval variability (18.4 ± 4.9% vs. 19.1 ± 5.4%), strength of motor unit short-term synchronization [common input strength (CIS) 1.02 ± 0.44 vs. 0.83 ± 0.22], and strength of common drive (0.47 ± 0.08 vs. 0.47 ± 0.06) did not change across conditions. The FCC signal was correlated with force (R = 0.45 ± 0.06), and the CoV for FCC increased in the painful condition (5.69 ± 1.29% vs. 7.83 ± 2.61%; P < 0.05). These results indicate that nociceptive stimulation increased the low-frequency variability in synaptic input to motoneurons.

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