Document Type




Format of Original

8 p.

Publication Date




Source Publication

Muscle & Nerve

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1002/mus.20392


Variability of motor unit discharge is a likely contributor to the greater force fluctuations observed in old adults at low muscle forces. We sought to determine whether the variability of motor unit discharge rate underlies the fluctuations in force during steady contractions across a range of forces in young (n = 11) and old (n = 14) adults. The coefficient of variation (CV) for discharge rate and force were measured during a force-matching task as the first dorsal interosseous muscle performed isometric contractions. The recruitment thresholds of the 78 motor units ranged from 0.04% to 34% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) force. The CV for discharge rate ranged from 7.6% to 46.2% and was greater (P < 0.05) for old adults (21.5% ± 7.7%) than young adults (17.3% ± 8.1%). Although the CV for force was similar for young and old subjects (2.53% ± 1.6%) across all target forces, it was greater for old adults at the lowest forces. Furthermore, there was a positive relation (r2 = 0.20, P < 0.001) between the CV for force and the CV for discharge rate across the range of recruitment thresholds. This relation was significant for old adults (r2 = 0.30, P < 0.001), but not for young adults (r2 = 0.06, P > 0.05). Thus, the normalized variability (CV) of motor unit discharge was greater in old adults and was related to the amplitude of force fluctuations across a broader range of forces than previously examined. These findings underscore the contribution of variability of motor unit activity to motor output in normal human aging. Muscle Nerve, 2005


Accepted version. Muscle & Nerve, Vol. 32, No. 4 (October 2005). DOI: 10.1002/mus.20392. The definitive version is available at © 2005 Wiley. Used with permission.

The author was affiliated with University of Colorado by the time this article was published

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