Differential activation among five human inspiratory motoneuron pools during tidal breathing

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007 Feb;102(2):772-80. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00683.2006. Epub 2006 Oct 19.


Neural drive to inspiratory pump muscles is increased under many pathological conditions. This study determined for the first time how neural drive is distributed to five different human inspiratory pump muscles during tidal breathing. The discharge of single motor units (n = 280) from five healthy subjects in the diaphragm, scalene, second parasternal intercostal, third dorsal external intercostal, and fifth dorsal external intercostal was recorded with needle electrodes. All units increased their discharge during inspiration, but 41 (15%) discharged tonically throughout expiration. Motor unit populations from each muscle differed in the timing of their activation and in the discharge rates of their motor units. Relative to the onset of inspiratory flow, the earliest recruited muscles were the diaphragm and third dorsal external intercostal (mean onset for the population after 26 and 29% of inspiratory time). The fifth dorsal external intercostal muscle was recruited later (43% of inspiratory time; P < 0.05). Compared with the other inspiratory muscles, units in the diaphragm and third dorsal external intercostal had the highest onset (7.7 and 7.1 Hz, respectively) and peak firing frequencies (12.6 and 11.9 Hz, respectively; both P < 0.05). There was a unimodal distribution of recruitment times of motor units in all muscles. Neural drive to human inspiratory pump muscles differs in timing, strength, and distribution, presumably to achieve efficient ventilation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Diaphragm / innervation
  • Diaphragm / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Inhalation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Respiration
  • Respiratory Muscles / innervation
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology
  • Tidal Volume / physiology*