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J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jun 1;113(10):3499-510. doi: 10.1152/jn.00051.2015. Epub 2015 Apr 8.

Crossed motor innervation of the base of human tongue.

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School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia;
School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia;
School of Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.


Muscle fibers of the genioglossus (GG) form the bulk of the muscle mass at the base of the tongue. The motor control of the tongue is critical for vocalization, feeding, and breathing. Our goal was to assess the patterns of motor innervation of GG single motor units (SMUs) in humans. Simultaneous monopolar recordings were obtained from four sites in the base of the tongue bilaterally at two antero-posterior levels from 16 resting, awake, healthy adult males, who wore a face mask with airway pressure and airflow sensors. We analyzed 69 data segments in which at least one lead contained large action potentials generated by an SMU. Such potentials served as triggers for spike-triggered averaging (STA) of signals recorded from the other three sites. Spontaneous activity of the SMUs was classified as inspiratory modulated, expiratory modulated, or tonic. Consistent with the antero-posterior orientation of GG fibers, 44 STAs (77%) recorded ipsilateral to the trigger yielded sharp action potentials with a median amplitude of 52 μV [interquartile range (IQR): 25-190] that were time shifted relative to the trigger by about 1 ms. Notably, 48% of recordings on the side opposite to the trigger also yielded sharp action potentials. Of those, 17 (29%) had a median amplitude of 63 μV (IQR: 39-96), and most were generated by tonic SMUs. Thus a considerable proportion of GG muscle fibers receive a crossed motor innervation. Crossed innervation may help ensure symmetry and stability of tongue position and movements under normal conditions and following injury or degenerative changes affecting the tongue.


genioglossus; hypoglossal nerve; motor units; obstructive sleep apnea; spike-triggered averaging

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