Cortical control of human motoneuron firing during isometric contraction

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jun;77(6):3401-5. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.6.3401.


We recorded whole scalp magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals simultaneously with the surface electromyogram from upper and lower limb muscles of six healthy right-handed adults during voluntary isometric contraction. The 15- to 33-Hz MEG signals, originating from the anterior bank of the central sulcus, i.e., the primary motor cortex, were coherent with motor unit firing in all subjects and for all muscles. The coherent cortical rhythms originated in the hand motor area for upper limb muscles (1st dorsal interosseus, extensor indicis proprius, and biceps brachii) and close to the foot area for lower limb muscles (flexor hallucis brevis). The sites of origin corresponding to different upper limb muscles did not differ significantly. The cortical signals preceded motor unit firing by 12-53 ms. The lags were shortest for the biceps brachii and increased systematically with increasing corticomuscular distance. We suggest that the motor cortex drives the spinal motoneuronal pool during sustained contractions, with the observed cortical rhythmic activity influencing the timing of efferent commands. The cortical rhythms could be related to motor binding, but the rhythmic output may also serve to optimize motor cortex output during isometric contractions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Spinal Cord / physiology