Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 179, Issue 2, pp 219–233 | Cite as

Variability of quadriceps femoris motor neuron discharge and muscle force in human aging

  • Seth J. Welsh
  • Devin V. Dinenno
  • Brian L. Tracy
Research Article


The purpose was to determine the contribution of visual feedback and the effect of aging on the variability of knee extensor (KE) muscle force and motor unit (MU) discharge. Single MUs were recorded during two types of isometric trials, (1) visual feedback provided (VIS) and then removed (NOVIS) during the trial (34 MUs from young, 32 from elderly), and (2) only NOVIS (66 MUs from young, 77 from elderly) during the trial. Recruitment threshold (RT) ranged from 0–37% MVC. Standard deviation (SD) and coefficient of variation (CV) of muscle force and MU interspike interval (ISI) was measured during steady contractions at target forces ranging from 0.3 to 54% MVC. Force drift (<0.5 Hz) was removed before analysis. VIS/NOVIS trials: the decrease in the CV of ISI from VIS to NOVIS was greater for MUs from elderly (12.5 ± 4.1 to 9.94 ± 2.6%) than young (10.6 ± 3.3 to 10.3 ± 2.8%, age group × vision interaction, P = 0.006). The change in CV of force from VIS to NOVIS was significantly greater for elderly (1.45 to 1.05%) than young (1.42 to 1.41%). NOVIS only trials: for all MUs, the average RT (6.6 ± 7.7 % MVC), target force above RT (1.20 ± 2.7% MVC), SD of ISI (0.012 ± 0.005 s), and CV of ISI (11.1 ± 3.3%) were similar for young and elderly MUs. The CV of force was similar between age groups for trials between 0 and 3% MVC (1.74 ± 0.74%) and was greater for young subjects from 3 to 10% MVC (1.47 ± 0.5 vs. 1.21 ± 0.4%) and >10% MVC (1.44 ± 0.6 vs. 1.01 ± 0.3%). The CV of ISI was similar between age groups for MUs in 0–3, 3–10, and >10% bins of RT. Thus, the contribution of visuomotor correction to the variability of motor unit discharge and force is greater for elderly adults. The presence of visual feedback appears to be necessary to find greater discharge variability in motor units from the knee extensors of elderly adults.


Knee extensor Motor unit Steadiness Aging 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Seth J. Welsh
    • 1
  • Devin V. Dinenno
    • 1
  • Brian L. Tracy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Health and Exercise ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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