Age-related decline in rate of torque development is accompanied by lower maximal motor unit discharge frequency during fast contractions

Malgorzata Klass, Stéphane Baudry, Jacques Duchateau
Journal of Applied Physiology 2008, 104 (3): 739-46
The aim of this study was to investigate the association between the rate of torque development and maximal motor unit discharge frequency in young and elderly adults as they performed rapid submaximal contractions with the ankle dorsiflexors. Recordings were obtained of the torque exerted by the dorsiflexors during the isometric contractions and the surface and intramuscular electromyograms (EMGs) from the tibialis anterior. The maximal rate of torque development and integrated EMG (percentage of total EMG burst) at peak rate of torque development during fast contractions were lower in elderly than young adults by 48% (P < 0.05) and 16.5% (P < 0.05), respectively. The young adults, but not the elderly adults, exhibited a positive association (r2 = 0.33; P < 0.01) between the integrated EMG computed up to the peak rate of torque development and the maximal rate of torque development achieved during the fast contractions. These age-related changes during fast voluntary contractions were accompanied by a decline (P < 0.001) in motor unit discharge frequency (19, 28, and 34% for first 3 interspike intervals, respectively) and in the percentage of units (45%; P < 0.05) that exhibited double discharges (doublets) at brief intervals (<5 ms). Because aging decreased the maximal rate of torque development of fast voluntary contractions to a greater extent ( approximately 10%) than that of an electrically evoked twitch, collectively the results indicate that the age-related decline in maximal motor unit discharge frequency likely limit, in addition to the slowing of muscle contractile properties, the performance of fast voluntary contractions.

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