A method is described that, for the first time, allows instantaneous estimation of the Ia fiber input to human soleus motoneurons following electrical stimulation of the tibial nerve. The basis of the method is to determine the thresholds of the most and least excitable 1a fibers to electrical stimulation, and to treat the intervening thresholds as having a normal distribution about the mean; the validity of this approach is discussed. It was found that, for the same Ia fiber input, the percentage of soleus motoneurons contributing to the H (Hoffmann)-reflex differed considerably among subjects; when the results were pooled, however, there was an approximately linear relationship between Ia input and motoneuron output. Weak extension of the great toe diminished the soleus motoneuron reflex discharge in all but 2 of 16 subjects; the results for weak ankle plantarflexion were less consistent, but overall, there was a reduction in soleus motoneuron output also. The methodology should provide new insights into disorders of movement and tone, especially as it permits estimates of motoneuron depolarization to be made.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY Assuming a normal distribution of Ia fiber thresholds to electrical stimulation and using the H-reflex, we determined for the first time an Ia input-α-motoneuron output relationship for the human soleus muscle. The relationship varies greatly among subjects but, overall, is approximately linear. Minimal contraction of a toe muscle alters the relationship dramatically, probably due to presynaptic inhibition of Ia fibers. Drawing on the literature, we can calculate changes in α-motoneuron membrane potential.