Estimation of the firing behaviour of a complete motoneuron pool by combining electromyography signal decomposition and realistic motoneuron modelling

PLoS Comput Biol. 2022 Sep 29;18(9):e1010556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010556. eCollection 2022 Sep.


Our understanding of the firing behaviour of motoneuron (MN) pools during human voluntary muscle contractions is currently limited to electrophysiological findings from animal experiments extrapolated to humans, mathematical models of MN pools not validated for human data, and experimental results obtained from decomposition of electromyographical (EMG) signals. These approaches are limited in accuracy or provide information on only small partitions of the MN population. Here, we propose a method based on the combination of high-density EMG (HDEMG) data and realistic modelling for predicting the behaviour of entire pools of motoneurons in humans. The method builds on a physiologically realistic model of a MN pool which predicts, from the experimental spike trains of a smaller number of individual MNs identified from decomposed HDEMG signals, the unknown recruitment and firing activity of the remaining unidentified MNs in the complete MN pool. The MN pool model is described as a cohort of single-compartment leaky fire-and-integrate (LIF) models of MNs scaled by a physiologically realistic distribution of MN electrophysiological properties and driven by a spinal synaptic input, both derived from decomposed HDEMG data. The MN spike trains and effective neural drive to muscle, predicted with this method, have been successfully validated experimentally. A representative application of the method in MN-driven neuromuscular modelling is also presented. The proposed approach provides a validated tool for neuroscientists, experimentalists, and modelers to infer the firing activity of MNs that cannot be observed experimentally, investigate the neuromechanics of human MN pools, support future experimental investigations, and advance neuromuscular modelling for investigating the neural strategies controlling human voluntary contractions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Humans
  • Locomotion
  • Motor Neurons* / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / physiology

Grants and funding

Skempton Scholarship to AC; Imperial College Research Fellowship to LM. LM also acknowledges support of the UNSW Scientia Fellowship scheme. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.