Depletion and sizes of motor units in spinal muscular atrophy
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Motor unit number estimation (MUNE) was applied to the biceps brachii muscles of 13 young patients (age 5--24 years) with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and the results compared with those of healthy control subjects matched for age and gender. In the SMA patients, all motor unit (MU) estimates fell below the control range, and there was good correspondence between the values for the two arms in the same subject. No correlation could be found between the MUNEs and the severity of the weakness. This unexpected result was attributed to the presence of small and normal-sized MUs in the muscles of patients, in addition to MUs that appeared to be considerably enlarged. The threefold mean increase in MU potential size was insufficient to compensate for the MU loss. In addition, the study confirmed that there are, on average, approximately 130 MUs in the healthy biceps brachii muscle.
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