Influence of proprioceptive feedback on the firing rate and recruitment of motoneurons

J Neural Eng. 2012 Feb;9(1):016007. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/9/1/016007. Epub 2011 Dec 20.


We investigated the relationships of the firing rate and maximal recruitment threshold of motoneurons recorded during isometric contraction with the number of spindles in individual muscles. At force levels above 10% of maximal voluntary contraction, the firing rate was inversely related to the number of spindles in a muscle, with the slope of the relationship increasing with force. The maximal recruitment threshold of motor units increased linearly with the number of spindles in the muscle. Thus, muscles with a greater number of spindles had lower firing rates and a greater maximal recruitment threshold. These findings may be explained by a mechanical interaction between muscle fibres and adjacent spindles. During low-level (0% to 10%) voluntary contractions, muscle fibres of recruited motor units produce force twitches that activate nearby spindles to respond with an immediate excitatory feedback that reaches maximal level. As the force increases further, the twitches overlap and tend towards tetanization, the muscle fibres shorten, the spindles slacken, their excitatory firings decrease, and the net excitation to the homonymous motoneurons decreases. Motoneurons of muscles with greater number of spindles receive a greater decrease in excitation which reduces their firing rates, increases their maximal recruitment threshold, and changes the motoneuron recruitment distribution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology*