Superposition of Impulse Activity in a Rapidly Adapting Afferent Unit Model

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Mechanosensory afferent units consist of a parent axon, the peripheral axonal arborization, and the branch terminal mechanoreceptors. The present work uses a mathematical model to describe the contribution of a given number of rapidly-adapting mechanoreceptors to the impulse pattern of their parent axon. In the model impulses initiated by any driven mechanoreceptor instantaneously propagate orthodromically and antidromically. The model also incorporates the axonal absolute refractory period as well as ortho-and antidromically elicited recovery cycles. In separate computations, periodic or random (Poisson process) trains of short-duration stimuli at constant amplitude are delivered to a given number (N=2–30) of co-innervated mechanoreceptors. The superposition of component impulse trains always departs from the theoretical ideal (Poisson process). Such departures are attributable to: (i) the number of driven mechanoreceptors, when N is small, (ii) axonal absolute refractory period, during maximal amplitude stimulation, and (iii) antidromic recovery cycles as well as absolute refractoriness, during submaximal-amplitude stimulation. Computations reveal that this “instantaneous reset” model results in the elimination of information extracted by driven mechanoreceptors. Model predictions with Poisson stimulation at varied amplitudes are compared to G-hair afferent unit responses to analogous stimulation. Qualitatively opposite results with respect to parent axonal impulse patterns imply that the axonal arborization is not simply a substrate for impulse propagation from branch terminals to parent axon.