Reflex excitability of facial motoneurons at onset of muscle reinnervation after facial nerve palsy

G Cossu, J Valls-Solé, F Valldeoriola, E Muñoz, P Benítez, F Aguilar
Muscle & Nerve 1999, 22 (5): 614-20
We studied 18 patients with complete unilateral denervation of the facial muscles after idiopathic facial nerve palsy to determine whether motoneuronal excitability is enhanced in the few motor units that are active at onset of muscle reinnervation. The study was carried out between 75 and 90 days after the facial nerve lesion. We used two needle electrodes to record simultaneously the spontaneous and voluntary activity of the orbicularis oris (OOris) and orbicularis oculi (OOculi) muscles, as well as the responses to ipsilateral and contralateral facial and supraorbital nerve stimuli. All patients showed involuntary firing of motor unit action potentials (MUAPs) in at least one of the muscles. Synkinetic activation of motor units in the OOris was induced by spontaneous blinking in all patients, and by inhalation and swallowing in some. Electrical stimulation of the ipsilateral facial nerve induced a direct M response in only 4 patients. In contrast, long-latency reflex responses were induced in both muscles by electrical stimulation of ipsilateral and contralateral facial and supraorbital nerves in all patients, at latencies ranging between 44 and 132 ms. The shape of such MUAP reflex responses was the same as that of the MUAPs seen to fire at rest. These findings provide evidence of enhanced excitability of facial motoneurons in our patients. Such hyperexcitability may be partly responsible for the postparalytic motor dysfunction syndrome that occurs after facial palsy with severe axonal damage.

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