Recruitment of Triceps Surae Motor Units in the Decerebrate Cat. I. Independence of Type S Units in Soleus and Medial Gastrocnemius Muscles

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1. We tested the hypothesis that reflex inhibition of soleus motor units reflects selective inhibition of slow-twitch (type S) motor units throughout the triceps surae. Physiological properties including type, together with firing behavior, were measured from single motor units in the medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscle of decerebrate cats with the use of intra-axonal recording and stimulation. MG unit firing was contrasted during net inhibition or excitation of the slow-twitch soleus muscle produced by ramp-hold-release stretches of MG.

2. Stretch of the MG muscle increased the firing of type S motor units in the MG regardless of the reflex response of the soleus muscle. When stretch inhibited soleus, each of the 14 type S units sampled from MG either was newly recruited or exhibited increases in the rate of ongoing firing. Increased firing was observed in 320 of 321 stretch trials. For 8 of these 14 units, a total of 155 stretch trials evoked reflex excitation of soleus, and unit firing increased in all trials.

3. For the eight MG type S motor units studied during both reflex inhibition and excitation of soleus, firing rate tended to be higher during inhibition. The higher rates were also associated with the higher MG forces required to elicit soleus inhibition. For one MG type S unit it was possible to compare firing rates during soleus inhibition and excitation for trials of overlapping levels of MG force. For this unit, firing rate was similar, but still appreciably higher, during inhibition.

4. Soleus inhibition was also produced by stretch of the plantaris (PL) or lateral gastrocnemius (LG) muscles. Type S units in PL (n = 2) or in LG (n = 1) were recruited or increased firing rate even when stretch of these muscles produced soleus inhibition.

5. The firing behavior of 12 fast-twitch (type F) units was studied (11 from MG, 1 from PL). All type F units either were recruited or accelerated the rate of firing during soleus inhibition, as well as during soleus excitation.

6. These findings give evidence that reflex inhibition of type S motor units in the soleus muscle does not necessarily reflect an organizational scheme in which there is inactivation of type S units in other active muscles. In the DISCUSSION we point out the absence of direct evidence for selective inactivation of units on the basis of their type classification.

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