The numbers and relative sizes of motor units estimated by Computer
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A fully automated system is described for estimating the numbers and relative sizes of functioning motor units in proximal and distal muscles of the arm and leg. In this system, a computer controls the motor nerve stimulation, and analyzes the potentials evoked from the muscles; a subprogram searches for instances of "alternation." In 33 healthy volunteers, aged 21 to 56 years, the median-innervated thenar muscles of one hand were tested 2 to 3 times; the mean motor unit estimate was 228 +/- 93 SD. For similar numbers of biceps brachii, extensor digitorum brevis, and vastus medialis muscles, the respective mean values were 113 +/- 40, 131 +/- 45, and 229 +/- 108 units. The reproducibility of the method was such that the overall coefficient of variation, for the normalized results from the 121 muscles studied, was 22%. The reliability of the automated method was doubled if 3 estimates, rather than one, were performed on each muscle. Comparisons of the results obtained by automated and "manual" methods indicated that the computer-derived values tended to be lower by approximately 33%.
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