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J Physiol. 1983 Jul;340:335-46.

Changes in motoneurone firing rates during sustained maximal voluntary contractions.


Tungsten micro-electrodes have been used to record the electrical activity of single motor units in the human adductor pollicis during maximal voluntary contractions. The potentials were characteristic of those from single muscle fibres. In brief maximal contractions, the firing rates of over 200 motor units were obtained from five normal subjects. Four subjects had a similar range (mean 26.4 +/- 6.5 Hz) while the fifth was slightly higher (35 +/- 7.4 Hz). When maximal voluntary force was sustained for 40-120 s, there was a progressive decline in the range and mean rate of motor-unit discharge. In the first 60 s, mean rates fell from about 27 Hz to 15 Hz. There was some evidence to suggest that those units with the highest initial frequencies changed rate most rapidly. It is suggested that this decline in motor unit discharge rates is not responsible for force loss, but that it may enable effective modulation of voluntary strength by rate coding to continue during fatigue.

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