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J Neurol Sci. 1988 Sep;86(2-3):125-36.

Influence of contractile force on properties of motor unit action potentials: ADEMG analysis.

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Department of Neurology, Stanford University School of Medicine, CA.


We have used automatic decomposition electromyography (ADEMG) to measure the configurational and firing properties of 13,206 motor unit action potentials (MUAPs) in the brachial biceps, brachial triceps and anterior tibial muscles of 30 healthy adults (22 men, 8 women; mean age 48.6 +/- 16.9 years, range 20-76) at three levels of isometric contractile force: threshold, 10% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), and 30% MVC. In all muscles, the increment in contractile force from threshold to 10% MVC was associated with a significant (P less than 0.05, paired t-test) increase in mean MUAP firing rate and number of turns per MUAP. The increment from 10% to 30% MVC led to highly significant (P less than 0.005) increase in mean firing rate, number of turns, amplitude and rise rate. Each force increment was associated with an increase in the number of simultaneously-active MUAPs per recording site; and with a significant decrease in mean MUAP duration in all muscles, due to noise-dependency of the duration measurement. Quantitatively, the changes in MUAP properties with force were comparable to or exceeded the effects of age, gender differences, or intermuscular variability. Test-retest measurements 2 years apart in a subgroup of young adults showed good correspondence of mean MUAP properties with force standardization. These results demonstrate that contractile force is a major determinant of MUAP shape and behavior properties, and so must be precisely measured or controlled in clinical EMG studies.

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