Decline in spindle support to alpha‐motoneurones during sustained voluntary contractions.

G. Macefield, K. E. Hagbarth, R. Gorman, S. C. Gandevia, D. Burke

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1. To address whether the muscle spindle support to alpha‐motoneurones is maintained during prolonged isometric voluntary contractions, the discharge of eighteen muscle spindle afferents, originating in the dorsiflexors of the ankle or toes, was recorded from the common peroneal nerve in eight subjects. Isometric contractions were generally sustained for 1 min, usually below 30% of the maximal voluntary dorsiflexion force. 2. Once the afferent had been identified, subjects were instructed to dorsiflex the foot slowly to recruit the spindle ending, to continue the ramp contraction until a predetermined target force was reached, and then to hold that force until requested to relax. 3. Five muscle spindle afferents maintained a constant discharge frequency during the hold phase of the isometric contraction. Following relaxation of the contraction two spindle afferents from tibialis anterior, exhibited a post‐contraction discharge despite the absence of detectable electromyographic activity (EMG). 4. The discharge frequency of most of the spindle afferents (72%) declined progressively during the isometric contraction. The mean firing rates had declined to two‐thirds of those at the onset of the contraction by 30 s, and to half after 1 min. The decline in spindle firing rate commenced during the ramp phase of the contraction and was statistically significant by 10 s, when force was held constant. The extent of the decline was greater for those units with the higher initial firing rates and for those units studied after many preceding contractions. 5. In the same contractions a progressive increase in EMG was required to maintain force and consequently the change in EMG was inversely related to the change in spindle discharge. While many mechanisms may contribute to the decline in spindle discharge during a sustained isometric contraction, it is argued that the result will be a progressive disfacilitation of alpha‐motoneurones, which may contribute to the decline in motor unit firing rates during a sustained contraction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-512
Number of pages16
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 1991
Externally publishedYes

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