Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 172, Issue 4, pp 507–518 | Cite as

Diminished task-related adjustments of common inputs to hand muscle motor neurons in older adults

  • John G. SemmlerEmail author
  • Kurt W. Kornatz
  • François G. Meyer
  • Roger M. Enoka
Research Article


The purpose of this study was to quantify correlated motor unit activity during isometric, shortening and lengthening contractions of a hand muscle in older adults. Thirteen old subjects (69.6±5.9 years, six women) lifted and lowered a light load with abduction–adduction movements of the index finger over 10° using 6-s shortening and lengthening contractions of the first dorsal interosseus muscle. The task was repeated 10–20 times while activity in 23 pairs of motor units was recorded with intramuscular electrodes. The data were compared with 23 motor-unit pairs in 15 young (25.9±4.6 years, five women) subjects obtained using a similar protocol in a previous study. Correlated motor unit activity was quantified using time-domain (synchronization index; Common Input Strength) and frequency-domain (coherence) analyses for the same motor-unit pairs. For all contractions, there was no difference with age for the strength of motor-unit synchronization, although age-related differences were observed for synchronous peak widths (young, 17.6±7.4 ms; old, 13.7±4.9 ms) and motor-unit coherence at 6–9 Hz (z score for young, 3.0±1.8; old, 2.2±1.5). Despite increased synchrony during lengthening contractions and narrower peak widths for shortening contractions in young subjects, there was no difference in the strength of motor unit synchronization (CIS ~0.8 imp/s), or the width of the synchronous peak (~14 ms) during the three tasks in old subjects. Furthermore, no significant differences in motor-unit coherence were observed between tasks at any frequency for old adults. These data suggest that the strategy used by the central nervous system to control isometric, shortening, and lengthening contractions varies in young adults, but not old adults. The diminished task-related adjustments of common inputs to motor neurons are a likely consequence of the neural adaptations that occur with advancing age.


Motor Neuron Motor Unit Index Finger Young Subject Isometric Contraction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Drew Kern, Michael Pascoe, and Brach Poston for assistance during some experiments and with motor-unit discrimination. This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants AG09000 and NS42734 awarded to RME.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • John G. Semmler
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Kurt W. Kornatz
    • 2
    • 3
  • François G. Meyer
    • 4
  • Roger M. Enoka
    • 3
  1. 1.Discipline of Physiology & Research Centre for Human Movement Control, School of Molecular and Biomedical ScienceThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrative PhysiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  4. 4.Department of Electrical EngineeringUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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