Motor units within human muscles usually exhibit a significant degree of short-term synchronization. Such coincident spiking typically has been attributed to last-order projections that provide common synaptic input across motor neurons. The extent of branched input arising directly from cortical neurons has often been suggested as a critical factor determining the magnitude of short-term synchrony. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to quantify motor unit synchrony in a variety of human muscles differing in the presumed extent of cortical input to their respective motor nuclei. Cross-correlation histograms were generated from the firing times of 551 pairs of motor units in 16 human muscles. Motor unit synchrony tended to be weakest for proximal muscles and strongest for more distal muscles. Previous work in monkeys and humans has shown that the strength of cortical inputs to motor neurons also exhibits a similar proximal-todistal gradient. However, in the present study, proximal-distal location was not an exclusive predictor of synchrony magnitude. The muscle that exhibited the least synchrony was an elbow flexor, whereas the greatest synchrony was most often found in intrinsic foot muscles. Furthermore, the strength of corticospinal inputs to the abductor hallucis muscle, an intrinsic foot muscle, as assessed through transcranial magnetic stimulation, was weaker than that projecting to the tibialis anterior muscle, even though the abductor hallucis muscle had higher synchrony values compared with the tibialis anterior muscle. We argue, therefore, that factors other than the potency of cortical inputs to motor neurons, such as the number of motor neurons innervating a muscle, significantly affects motor unit synchrony.
- Motor unit
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