Discharge characteristics of biceps brachii motor units at recruitment when older adults sustained an isometric contraction

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Feb;105(2):571-81. doi: 10.1152/jn.00841.2010. Epub 2010 Dec 15.


The purpose of this study was to compare the discharge characteristics of motor units recruited during an isometric contraction that was sustained with the elbow flexor muscles by older adults at target forces that were less than the recruitment threshold force of each isolated motor unit. The discharge times of 27 single motor units were recorded from the biceps brachii in 11 old adults (78.8 ± 5.9 yr). The target force was set at either a relatively small (6.6 ± 3.7% maximum) or large (11.4 ± 4.5% maximum) difference below the recruitment threshold force and the contraction was sustained until the motor unit was recruited and discharged action potentials for about 60 s. The time to recruitment was longer for the large target-force difference (P = 0.001). At recruitment, the motor units discharged repetitively for both target-force differences, which contrasts with data from young adults when motor units discharged intermittently at recruitment for the large difference between recruitment threshold force and target force. The coefficient of variation (CV) for the first five interspike intervals (ISIs) increased from the small (18.7 ± 7.9) to large difference (35.0 ± 10.2%, P = 0.008) for the young adults, but did not differ for the two target force differences for the old adults (26.3 ± 14.7 to 24.0 ± 13.1%, P = 0.610). When analyzed across the discharge duration, the average CV for the ISI decreased similarly for the two target-force differences (P = 0.618) in old adults. These findings contrast with those of young adults and indicate that the integration of synaptic input during sustained contractions differs between young and old adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology*