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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Dec;110(11):2592-606. doi: 10.1152/jn.00073.2013. Epub 2013 Sep 11.

Influences of premotoneuronal command statistics on the scaling of motor output variability during isometric plantar flexion.

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Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, Department of Telecommunication and Control Engineering, Escola Politécnica, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.


This study focuses on neuromuscular mechanisms behind ankle torque and EMG variability during a maintained isometric plantar flexion contraction. Experimentally obtained torque standard deviation (SD) and soleus, medial gastrocnemius, and lateral gastrocnemius EMG envelope mean and SD increased with mean torque for a wide range of torque levels. Computer simulations were performed on a biophysically-based neuromuscular model of the triceps surae consisting of premotoneuronal spike trains (the global input, GI) driving the motoneuron pools of the soleus, medial gastrocnemius, and lateral gastrocnemius muscles, which activate their respective muscle units. Two types of point processes were adopted to represent the statistics of the GI: Poisson and Gamma. Simulations showed a better agreement with experimental results when the GI was modeled by Gamma point processes having lower orders (higher variability) for higher target torques. At the same time, the simulations reproduced well the experimental data of EMG envelope mean and SD as a function of mean plantar flexion torque, for the three muscles. These results suggest that the experimentally found relations between torque-EMG variability as a function of mean plantar flexion torque level depend not only on the intrinsic properties of the motoneuron pools and the muscle units innervated, but also on the increasing variability of the premotoneuronal GI spike trains when their mean rates increase to command a higher plantar flexion torque level. The simulations also provided information on spike train statistics of several hundred motoneurons that compose the triceps surae, providing a wide picture of the associated mechanisms behind torque and EMG variability.


force variability; motoneuron pool model; motor control; neuromuscular model; plantar flexion torque; torque variability

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