Single thenar motor unit F waves (FMUPs) were collected from 23 healthy volunteers (age range 21-91 years, mean 46 +/- 20 SD). In each subject, 10 distinct FMUPs were recorded, using surface stimulating and recording electrodes, and the conduction velocity (CV) of each motor unit was calculated. The distribution of CVs (overall range 42-66 m/s; individual FMUP CV dispersion range 6-27% of the maximal FMUP CV) was close to those previously reported whatever the technique used. With age, a progressive CV reduction was observed, and maximal FMUP CV was significantly correlated with age (r = -0.58, P < 0.01), whereas no statistically significant correlation was found between minimal FMUP CV and age (r = -0.27, ns). Individual FMUP CV dispersion presented a statistically significant decrease with age (r = -0.46, P < 0.05). Furthermore, thenar motor unit number (MUNE), estimated by the adapted multiple point stimulation method, decreased progressively with age and was statistically correlated with maximal FMUP CV (r = 0.59, P < 0.01), whereas there was no correlation with minimal FMUP CV (r = 0.34, ns). Thus, we propose that motor unit loss is progressive with age throughout life, affecting particularly the largest and fastest conducting motor units. Preferential involvement of these fibers could be responsible for the age-related changes in motor nerve CV.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.