Factors influencing the relation between corticospinal output and muscle force during voluntary contractions


Professor Alessandro Rossi, Viale Bracci 2, 53100 Siena, Italy.
E-mail: rossiale@unisi.it


The mechanisms by which voluntary forces of different strengths are produced in human muscles are not clear. We studied the relation between force and surface electromyography (sEMG) variables over a wide range of voluntary contraction strengths of biceps brachii (BIC) and abductor digiti minimi (ADM). The relation between force and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) to transcranial magnetic stimulation of motor cortex was also assessed. The root mean square of sEMG and median frequency (Mf) of the sEMG power spectrum as well as the MEP area of ADM and BIC were calculated up to the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). The root mean square of ADM and BIC increased with increasing force levels up to the MVC. The Mf of BIC increased with force levels up to 70% MVC after which it rapidly declined. The Mf of ADM peaked at 40% MVC to slowly decline thereafter. The MEP changes with force were similar to Mf changes. Thus, corticospinal output, as tested by the Mf and MEPs, does not parallel force increments across the contraction range. This decline, which is contingent on the relative contribution of motor unit recruitment and rate coding to force production in each muscle, may depend on reduced motoneurone responsiveness at high firing rates. We suggest that, under controlled conditions, the frequency content of the sEMG signal may be taken to indicate motor unit recruitment range. This information may improve the utility of the Mf to enable evaluation of voluntary activation under different conditions.