Human motor unit recruitment and derecruitment during long lasting intermittent contractions

Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology - 2001-06-01Christova P, Kossev A10.1016/S1050-6411(00)00052-3
Seven healthy subjects were investigated in cyclic ramp-and-hold long lasting isometric contractions. Wire branched electrodes were used for selective recording of single motor unit (MU) potentials from m. biceps brachii. MU behaviour was defined in terms of recruitment/derecruitment thresholds (RT and DT) and the duration of interspike intervals (ISI). A total of 63 MUs was investigated: 40 units were active from the beginning of the task performance and another 23 were recruited later. There were no changes in the recruitment pattern of MUs with fatigue development - a short first ISI followed by a very long second one and an almost constant firing rate after this transient phase. The tendency of RT to gradually decrease dominates the results. Thus, the required constant rate of force increase with fatigue development was maintained mostly by the mechanisms of space coding (i.e., decrease of RT and recruitment of additional MUs). Oppositely, the time behaviour of the DT changes was not uniform and rate coding was an essential mechanism in the adaptation of MU activity to muscle fatigue during relaxation phases. The recruitment pattern and fatigue related behaviour of the additionally recruited MUs were similar to those of MUs active from the first cycle of the motor task performance.