Recruitment of faster motor units is associated with greater rates of fascicle strain and rapid changes in muscle force during locomotion


Lee SS, de Boef Miara M, Arnold AS, Biewener AA, Wakeling JM. Recruitment of faster motor units is associated with greater rates of fascicle strain and rapid changes in muscle force during locomotion. J Exp BiolJ Exp BiolJ Exp Biol. 2013;216 :198-207.

Date Published:

Jan 15


Animals modulate the power output needed for different locomotor tasks by changing muscle forces and fascicle strain rates. To generate the necessary forces, appropriate motor units must be recruited. Faster motor units have faster activation-deactivation rates than slower motor units, and they contract at higher strain rates; therefore, recruitment of faster motor units may be advantageous for tasks that involve rapid movements or high rates of work. This study identified motor unit recruitment patterns in the gastrocnemii muscles of goats and examined whether faster motor units are recruited when locomotor speed is increased. The study also examined whether locomotor tasks that elicit faster (or slower) motor units are associated with increased (or decreased) in vivo tendon forces, force rise and relaxation rates, fascicle strains and/or strain rates. Electromyography (EMG), sonomicrometry and muscle-tendon force data were collected from the lateral and medial gastrocnemius muscles of goats during level walking, trotting and galloping and during inclined walking and trotting. EMG signals were analyzed using wavelet and principal component analyses to quantify changes in the EMG frequency spectra across the different locomotor conditions. Fascicle strain and strain rate were calculated from the sonomicrometric data, and force rise and relaxation rates were determined from the tendon force data. The results of this study showed that faster motor units were recruited as goats increased their locomotor speeds from level walking to galloping. Slow inclined walking elicited EMG intensities similar to those of fast level galloping but different EMG frequency spectra, indicating that recruitment of the different motor unit types depended, in part, on characteristics of the task. For the locomotor tasks and muscles analyzed here, recruitment patterns were generally associated with in vivo fascicle strain rates, EMG intensity and tendon force. Together, these data provide new evidence that changes in motor unit recruitment have an underlying mechanical basis, at least for certain locomotor tasks.


Lee, Sabrina S Mde Boef Miara, MariaArnold, Allison SBiewener, Andrew AWakeling, James MengR01 AR055648/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/R01AR055648/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/Research Support, N.I.H., ExtramuralEngland2012/09/14 06:00J Exp Biol. 2013 Jan 15;216(Pt 2):198-207. doi: 10.1242/jeb.072637. Epub 2012 Sep 12.