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Distribution of muscle fiber conduction velocity for representative samples of motor units in the full recruitment range of the tibialis anterior muscle

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Acta Physiologica

Published online on


Aim Motor units are recruited in an orderly manner according to the size of motor neurons. Moreover, because larger motor neurons innervate fibers with larger diameters than smaller motor neurons, motor units should be recruited orderly according to their conduction velocity (MUCV). Because of technical limitations, these relations have been previously tested either indirectly or in small motor unit samples that revealed weak associations between motor unit recruitment threshold (RT) and MUCV. Here we analyze the relation between MUCV and RT for large samples of motor units. Methods Ten healthy volunteers completed a series of isometric ankle dorsiflexions at forces up to 70% of the maximum. Multi‐channel surface electromyographic signals recorded from the tibialis anterior muscle were decomposed into single motor unit action potentials, from which the corresponding motor unit RT, MUCV, and action potential amplitude were estimated. Established relations between muscle fiber diameter and CV were used to estimate the fiber size. Results Within individual subjects, the distributions of MUCV and fiber diameters were unimodal and did not show distinct populations. MUCV was strongly correlated with RT (mean (SD) R2 = 0.7 (0.09), p<0.001; 406 motor units), which supported the hypothesis that fiber diameter is associated to RT. Conclusion The results provide further evidence for the relations between motor neuron and muscle fiber properties for large samples of motor units. The proposed methodology for motor unit analysis has also the potential to open new perspectives in the study of chronic and acute neuromuscular adaptations to ageing, training, and pathology. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.