1998 ISEK Congress Keynote Lecture
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There are now at least nine methods for motor unit number estimation (MUNE) in living human muscles. All methods are based on the comparison of an average single motor unit potential (or twitch) with the response of the whole muscle. Such estimations have been performed for proximal and distal muscles of the arm and leg in healthy subjects and in patients with various neuromuscular disorders. In healthy subjects there is a loss of motor units which is most evident in distal muscles and after the age of 60 years. Substantial losses of motor units have been measured in patients with ALS, post-polio symptoms, and diabetic peripheral neuropathies. In contrast, normal MUNEs have been found in approximately half of patients with persisting obstetric brachial palsies. The sizes of motor units show considerable variations within the same muscle and also between muscles; very large units are usually present in severe partial denervation. Although many motor unit properties are largely governed by motoneurons, some exhibit less plasticity in humans than in other mammals.
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