Recruitment Order Among Motoneurons From Different Motor Nuclei

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Recruitment order among motoneurons from different motor nuclei. The principles by which motoneurons (MNs) innervating different multiple muscles are organized into activity are not known. Here we test the hypothesis that coactivated MNs belonging to different muscles in the decerebrate cat are recruited in accordance with the size principle, i.e., that MNs with slow conduction velocity (CV) are recruited before MNs with higher CV. We studied MN recruitment in two muscle pairs, the lateral gastrocnemius (LG) and medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscles, and the MG and posterior biceps femoris (PBF) muscles because these pairs are coactivated reliably in stretch and cutaneous reflexes, respectively. For 29/34 MG-LG pairs of MNs, the MN with lower CV was recruited first either in all trials (548/548 trials for 22 pairs) or in most trials (225/246 trials for 7 pairs), whether the MG or the LG MN in a pair was recruited first. Intertrial variability in the force thresholds of MG and LG MNs recruited by stretch was relatively low (coefficient of variation = 18% on average). Finally, punctate stimulation of the skin over the heel recruited 4/4 pairs of MG-LG MNs in order by CV. By all of these measures, recruitment order is as consistent among MNs from these two ankle muscles as it is for MNs supplying the MG muscle alone. For MG-PBF pairings, the MN with lower CV was recruited first in the majority of trials for 13/24 pairs and in reverse order for 9/24 pairs. The recruitment sequence of coactive MNs supplying the MG and PBF muscles was, therefore, random with respect to axonal conduction velocity and not organized as predicted by the size principle. Taken together, these findings demonstrate for the first time, that the size principle can extend beyond the boundaries of a single muscle but does not coordinate all coactive muscles in a limb.

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