Motor neuron firing dysfunction in spastic patients with primary lateral sclerosis

J Neurophysiol. 2005 Aug;94(2):919-27. doi: 10.1152/jn.00185.2005. Epub 2005 Apr 13.


Patients with corticospinal tract dysfunction have slow voluntary movements with brisk stretch reflexes and spasticity. Previous studies reported reduced firing rates of motor units during voluntary contraction. To assess whether this firing behavior occurs because motor neurons do not respond normally to excitatory inputs, we studied motor units in patients with primary lateral sclerosis, a degenerative syndrome of progressive spasticity. Firing rates were measured from motor units in the wrist extensor muscles at varying levels of voluntary contraction < or =10% maximal force. At each force level, the firing rate was measured with and without added muscle vibration, a maneuver that repetitively activates muscle spindles. In motor units from age-matched control subjects, the firing rate increased with successively stronger contractions as well as with the addition of vibration at each force level. In patients with primary lateral sclerosis, motor-unit firing rates remained stable, or in some cases declined, with progressively stronger contractions or with muscle vibration. We conclude that excitatory inputs produce a blunted response in motor neurons in patients with primary lateral sclerosis compared with age-matched controls. The potential explanations include abnormal activation of voltage-activated channels that produce stable membrane plateaus at low voltages, abnormal recruitment of the motor pool, or tonic inhibition of motor neurons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / complications*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Spasticity / etiology
  • Muscle Spasticity / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Vibration