The term "preferred firing range" describes a pattern of human motor unit (MU) unitary discharge during a voluntary contraction in which the profile of the spike-frequency of the MU's compound action potential is dissociated from the profile of the presumed depolarizing pressure exerted on the unit's spinal motoneuron (MN). Such a dissociation has recently been attributed by inference to the presence of a plateau potential (PP) in the active MN. This inference is supported by the qualitative similarities between the firing pattern of human MUs during selected types of relatively brief muscle contraction and that of intracellularly stimulated, PP-generating cat MNs in a decerebrate preparation, and turtle MNs in an in vitro slice of spinal cord. There are also similarities between the stimulus-response behavior of intracellularly stimulated turtle MNs and human MUs during the elaboration of a slowly rising voluntary contraction. This review emphasizes that there are a variety of open issues concerning the PP. Nonetheless, a rapidly growing body of comparative vertebrate evidence supports the idea that the PP and other forms of non-linear MN behavior play a major role in the regulation of muscle force, from the lamprey to the human.
Copyright 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Muscle Nerve 25: 000-000, 2002