Short-term synchronization of active motor units has been attributed in part to last-order divergent projections that provide common synaptic input across motor neurons. The extent of synchrony thus allows insight as to how the inputs to motor neurons are distributed. Our particular interest relates to the organization of extrinsic finger muscles that give rise distally to multiple tendons, which insert onto all the fingers. For example, extensor digitorum (ED) is a multi-compartment muscle that extends digits 2-5. Given the unique architecture of ED, it is unclear if synaptic inputs are broadly distributed across the entire pool of motor neurons innervating ED or segregated to supply subsets of motor neurons innervating different compartments. Therefore the purpose of this study was to evaluate the degree of motor-unit synchrony both within and across compartments of ED. One hundred and forty-five different motor-unit pairs were recorded in the human ED of nine subjects during weak voluntary contractions. Cross-correlation histograms were generated for all of the motor-unit pairs and the degree of synchronization between two units was assessed using the index of common input strength (CIS). The degree of synchrony for motor-unit pairs within the same compartment (CIS = 0.7 ± 0.3; mean ± SD) was significantly greater than for motor-unit pairs in different compartments (CIS = 0.4 ± 0.22). Consequently, last-order synaptic projections are not distributed uniformly across the entire pool of motor neurons innervating ED but are segregated to supply subsets of motor neurons innervating different compartments.
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