Longitudinal study of the contractile and electrical properties of single human thenar motor units
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Serial motor unit number estimates have shed important light on the extent and rates of motoneuron losses in aging and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, the estimates alone provide few clues to the health and functional status of surviving motor units. A reliable means for assessing the functional status of the surviving motor units would therefore by a welcome addition to our present tools for studying motor units. Examining the physiological properties of samples of motor units drawn at intervals during the course of a motoneuronal disease suffers from the important limitation that the samples may not be representative of one another. The latter problem could be circumvented by serially studying the same motor units. This study describes a noninvasive technique capable of longitudinally tracking the contractile and electrical properties of specific single thenar motor units in healthy subjects, in some instances over several years. The technique proved to be reasonably reliable and provided information on a wide range of contractile and electrical properties of motor units. Such an approach could serve as a potentially powerful and sensitive means of studying the life histories of single motor units in aging, diseases of the motoneuron, and in the latter instances, the responses of the motoneurons to treatment.
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