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Brain Res. 1996 May 6;719(1-2):1-7.

Firing rate modulation of human motor units in different muscles during isometric contraction with various forces.

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Department of Exercise Physiology, Faculty of Physical Education, International Budo University, Chiba, Japan.


To examine the factors affecting the control of human motor units, rate coding strategies of the motor units were investigated in upper limb and intrinsic hand muscles during voluntary isometric contraction of steady force levels up to 80% of maximal voluntary contraction. Numerous spike trains from single motor units were recorded from the m. first dorsal interosseous (FDI) and the m. biceps brachii (BB) of eight human subjects by means of tungsten micro-electrodes, and the mean firing rate (MFR) was calculated for each subject and inter-individual comparisons made. The MFRs of the FDI were larger than that of the BB at the higher force level, and substantial differences were not found between these muscles at the lower force level. The slope of the linear regression line of MFRs vs. exerted forces for the FDI was more than twice that for the BB. Therefore, isometric force control of the FDI depends more on the rate coding strategy. The difference in rate coding between the FDI and BB motor units may be determined by factors other than muscle fiber composition, because both muscles are known to possess a similar composition of fiber types. Possible mechanisms underlying these characteristics of rate coding strategy are considered in this report.

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