Properties of human motoneurones and their synaptic noise deduced from motor unit recordings with the aid of computer modelling

J Physiol Paris. Jan-Apr 1999;93(1-2):135-45. doi: 10.1016/s0928-4257(99)80144-2.


This paper reviews two new facets of the behaviour of human motoneurones; these were demonstrated by modelling combined with analysis of long periods of low-frequency tonic motor unit firing (sub-primary range). 1) A novel transformation of the interval histogram has shown that the effective part of the membrane's post-spike voltage trajectory is a segment of an exponential (rather than linear), with most spikes being triggered by synaptic noise before the mean potential reaches threshold. The curvature of the motoneurone's trajectory affects virtually all measures of its behaviour and response to stimulation. The 'trajectory' is measured from threshold, and so includes any changes in threshold during the interspike interval. 2) A novel rhythmic stimulus (amplitude-modulated pulsed vibration) has been used to show that the motoneurone produces appreciable phase-advance during sinusoidal excitation. At low frequencies, the advance increases with rising stimulus frequency but then, slightly below the motoneurones mean firing rate, it suddenly becomes smaller. The gain has a maximum for stimuli at the mean firing rate (the 'carrier'). Such behaviour is functionally important since it affects the motoneurone's response to any rhythmic input, whether generated peripherally by the receptors (as in tremor) or by the CNS (as with cortical oscillations). Low mean firing rates favour tremor, since the high gain and reduced phase advance at the 'carrier' reduce the stability of the stretch reflex.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Artifacts
  • Cats
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Noise
  • Species Specificity
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Tremor / physiopathology