Superficial motor units are larger than deeper motor units in human vastus lateralis muscle

C A Knight, G Kamen
Muscle & Nerve 2005, 31 (4): 475-80
Previous studies have suggested that regionalization may occur for human motor units, whereby smaller motor units are located in deeper parts of the muscle and larger motor units are located in more superficial portions. We examined this possibility in the human vastus lateralis muscle using macro-EMG (electromyography) to estimate motor unit size. The sample consisted of nine individuals from whom 114 motor units were recorded at forces ranging between 5% and 60% MVC. Peak-to-peak macro-EMG amplitude was well correlated with macro area (Spearman rho = 0.96). There was a statistically significant inverse relationship between recording depth and macro peak-to-peak amplitude (rho = -0.402, p < 0.001). We conclude that there is a nonrandom distribution of motor units in human muscle, with larger motor units located in more superficial regions and smaller units located in deeper regions. Clinicians who monitor motor unit activity need to recognize that a representative sample of motor unit recordings should include motor units from both deeper and more superficial regions of muscle.

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