Motor Neuron Pools of Synergistic Thigh Muscles Share Most of Their Synaptic Input.

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Laine CM, Martinez-Valdes E, Falla D, Mayer F, Farina D.
J Neurosci. 2015 Sep 2;35(35):12207-16

Neural control of synergist muscles is not well understood. Presumably, each muscle in a synergistic group receives some unique neural drive and some drive that is also shared in common with other muscles in the group. In this investigation, we sought to characterize the strength, frequency spectrum, and force dependence of the neural drive to the human vastus lateralis and vastus medialis muscles during the production of isometric knee extension forces at 10 and 30% of maximum voluntary effort. High-density surface electromyography recordings were decomposed into motor unit action potentials to examine the neural drive to each muscle. Motor unit coherence analysis was used to characterize the total neural drive to each muscle and the drive shared between muscles. Using a novel approach based on partial coherence analysis, we were also able to study specifically the neural drive unique to each muscle (not shared). The results showed that the majority of neural drive to the vasti muscles was a cross-muscle drive characterized by a force-dependent strength and bandwidth. Muscle-specific neural drive was at low frequencies (<5 Hz) and relatively weak. Frequencies of neural drive associated with afferent feedback (6-12 Hz) and with descending cortical input (∼20 Hz) were almost entirely shared by the two muscles, whereas low-frequency (<5 Hz) drive comprised shared (primary) and muscle-specific (secondary) components. This study is the first to directly investigate the extent of shared versus independent control of synergist muscles at the motor neuron level.


Precisely how the nervous system coordinates the activity of synergist muscles is not well understood. One possibility is that muscles of a synergy share a common neural drive. In this study, we directly compared the relative strength of shared versus independent neural drive to synergistically activated thigh muscles in humans. The results of this analysis support the notion that synergistically activated muscles share most of their neural drive. Scientifically, this study addressed an important gap in our current understanding of how neural drive is delivered to synergist muscles. We have also demonstrated the feasibility of a novel approach to the study of muscle synergies based on partial coherence analysis of motor unit activity.