Electrical stimulation over human muscle can generate force directly by activation of motor axons and indirectly by ‘reflex’ recruitment of spinal motoneurones. These experiments were designed to define the properties of the centrally generated ‘reflex’ force, including the optimal stimulus conditions for producing it in tibialis anterior (TA) and triceps surae (TS), and its interaction with volition. Subjects (n= 21) were seated with their foot strapped to an isometric myograph. Surface EMG was recorded from TS and TA. High‐frequency electrical stimulation (100 Hz) of TS and TA with wide pulse widths (1 ms) was most effective to evoke the sustained centrally generated forces. The maximal force evoked by this mechanism during stimulation of TA for 40 s was ∼42 % of that produced by a maximal voluntary contraction. For both muscle groups, ramp increases and decreases in stimulus frequency (from ∼4 to 100 Hz and back to 4 Hz over 6 s) resulted in marked hysteresis in the force‐frequency plot. After a single ‘burst’ of 100 Hz stimulation during prolonged stimulation at 25 Hz, force remained elevated. Repeated bursts often generated progressively larger force increments. These behaviours were abolished by an anaesthetic nerve block proximal to the stimulation site, confirming the central origin for the ‘extra’ force. After a brief voluntary contraction was performed during 25 Hz stimulation, force remained elevated, and this showed some gradation with voluntary contraction amplitude. Sometimes voluntary contractions alone initiated the sustained central motor output. Involuntary contractions often persisted for many seconds after electrical stimulation ceased. These were not terminated by brief inhibitory inputs to the active motoneurones but could be stopped by the voluntary command to ‘relax completely’. Overall, these centrally generated contractions are consistent with activation of plateau potentials in motoneurones innervating the ankle dorsiflexors and plantarflexors. Large forces can be produced through this mechanism. The interaction with volitional drives suggests that plateau behaviour may contribute significantly to the normal output of human motoneurones.
When electrical stimulation is applied over human muscle, the evoked force is generally considered to be of peripheral origin. However, in relaxed humans, stimulation (1 msec pulses, 100 Hz) over the muscles that plantarflex the ankle produced more than five times more force than could be accounted for by peripheral properties. This additional force was superimposed on the direct response to motor axon stimulation, produced up to 40% of the force generated during a maximal voluntary contraction, and was abolished during anesthesia of the tibial nerve proximal to the stimulation site. It therefore must have resulted from the activation of motoneurons within the spinal cord. The additional force could be initiated by stimulation of low-threshold afferents, distorted the classical relationship between force and stimulus frequency, and often outlasted the stimulation. The mean firing rate of 27 soleus motor units recorded during the sustained involuntary activity after the stimulation was 5.8 Ϯ 0.2 Hz. The additional force increments were not attributable to voluntary intervention because they were present in three sleeping subjects and in two subjects with lesions of the thoracic spinal cord. The phenomenon is consistent with activation of plateau potentials within motoneurons and, if so, the present findings imply that plateau potentials can make a large contribution to forces produced by the human nervous system.
The neural mechanisms underlying the sense of joint position and movement remain controversial. While cutaneous receptors are known to contribute to kinesthesia for the fingers, the present experiments test the hypothesis that they contribute at other major joints. Illusory movements were evoked at the interphalangeal (IP) joints of the index finger, the elbow, and the knee by stimulation of populations of cutaneous and muscle spindle receptors, both separately and together. Subjects matched perceived movements with voluntary movements of homologous joints on the contralateral side. Cutaneous receptors were activated by stretch of the skin (using 2 intensities of stretch) and vibration activated muscle spindle receptors. Stimuli were designed to activate receptors that discharge during joint flexion. For the index finger, vibration was applied over the extensor tendons on the dorsum of the hand, to evoke illusory metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint flexion, and skin stretch was delivered around the IP joints. The strong skin stretch evoked the illusion of flexion of the proximal IP joint in 6/8 subjects (12 +/- 5 degrees, mean +/- SE). For the group, strong skin stretch delivered during vibration increased the perceived flexion of the proximal IP joint by eight times with a concomitant decrease in perceived flexion of the MCP joint compared with vibration alone (P < 0.05). For the elbow, vibration was applied over the distal tendon of triceps brachii and skin stretch over the dorsal forearm. When delivered alone, strong skin stretch evoked illusory elbow flexion in 5/10 subjects (9 +/- 4 degrees). Simultaneous strong skin stretch and vibration increased the illusory elbow flexion for the group by 1.5 times compared with vibration (P < 0.05). For the knee, vibration was applied over the patellar tendon and skin stretch over the thigh. Skin stretch alone evoked illusory knee flexion in 3/10 subjects (8 +/- 4 degrees) and when delivered during vibration, perceived knee flexion increased for the group by 1.4 times compared with vibration (P < 0.05). Hence inputs from cutaneous receptors, muscle receptors, and combined inputs from both receptors likely subserve kinesthesia at joints throughout the body.
1. Rhythmic locomotor activity was evoked in clonidine-treated acute and chronic spinal cats, and the effect of stimulating group I afferents from the plantaris muscle on the timing and magnitude of bursts in medial gastrocnemius (MG) motoneurons was examined. 2. The locomotor rhythm was entrained when group I afferents in the plantaris nerve were electrically stimulated with trains of stimuli presented at rates above and below the intrinsic frequency of the rhythmic activity. During entrainment at rates higher than the intrinsic frequency, a burst of activity in ipsilateral MG motoneurons was initiated approximately 40 ms after the onset of each stimulus train. At lower rates of entrainment the onset of MG bursts preceded the onset of the stimulus trains, and each stimulus train had an excitatory effect on the MG burst with a latency in the range of 30-50 ms. A similar excitatory effect was observed when the stimulus trains were triggered at a preset delay after the endogenous generation of the MG bursts. 3. The excitatory action of plantaris group I afferents on the MG motoneurons was only seen during periods of locomotor activity. In the absence of rhythmic activity, the same stimulus trains reduced any ongoing tonic activity in MG motoneurons. 4. Vibration of the plantaris muscle to preferentially activate group Ia afferents neither entrained the locomotor rhythm nor increased the magnitude of the MG bursts. 5. We conclude that during locomotor activity, input from group Ib afferents of the plantaris muscle has an excitatory action on the system of interneurons generating the extensor bursts, i.e., on the extensor half-center of the central rhythm generator.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) generates contractions by depolarising axons beneath the stimulating electrodes. The depolarisation of motor axons produces contractions by signals travelling from the stimulation location to the muscle (peripheral pathway), with no involvement of the central nervous system (CNS). The concomitant depolarisation of sensory axons sends a large volley into the CNS and this can contribute to contractions by signals travelling through the spinal cord (central pathway) which may have advantages when NMES is used to restore movement or reduce muscle atrophy. In addition, the electrically evoked sensory volley increases activity in CNS circuits that control movement and this can also enhance neuromuscular function after CNS damage. The first part of this review provides an overview of how peripheral and central pathways contribute to contractions evoked by NMES and describes how differences in NMES parameters affect the balance between transmission along these two pathways. The second part of this review describes how NMES location (i.e. over the nerve trunk or muscle belly) affects transmission along peripheral and central pathways and describes some implications for motor unit recruitment during NMES. The third part of this review summarises some of the effects that the electrically evoked sensory volley has on CNS circuits, and highlights the need to identify optimal stimulation parameters for eliciting plasticity in the CNS. A goal of this work is to identify the best way to utilize the electrically evoked sensory volley generated during NMES to exploit mechanisms inherent to the neuromuscular system and enhance neuromuscular function for rehabilitation.
Tetanic electrical stimulation applied over human muscle or peripheral nerve generates contractions by depolarizing motor axons beneath the stimulating electrodes. However, the simultaneous depolarization of sensory axons can also contribute to the contractions by the synaptic recruitment of spinal motoneurons. Maximizing this central contribution may be beneficial for reducing muscle atrophy or restoring movement for persons with movement disorders.
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) can be delivered over a nerve trunk or muscle belly and can generate contractions by activating motor (peripheral pathway) and sensory (central pathway) axons. In the present experiments, we compared the peripheral and central contributions to plantar flexion contractions evoked by stimulation over the tibial nerve vs. the triceps surae muscles. Generating contractions through central pathways follows Henneman's size principle, whereby low-threshold motor units are activated first, and this may have advantages for rehabilitation. Statistical analyses were performed on data from trials in which NMES was delivered to evoke 10-30% maximum voluntary torque 2-3 s into the stimulation (Time(1)). Two patterns of stimulation were delivered: 1) 20 Hz for 8 s; and 2) 20-100-20 Hz for 3-2-3 s. Torque and soleus electromyography were quantified at the beginning (Time(1)) and end (Time(2); 6-7 s into the stimulation) of each stimulation train. H reflexes (central pathway) and M waves (peripheral pathway) were quantified. Motor unit activity that was not time-locked to each stimulation pulse as an M wave or H reflex ("asynchronous" activity) was also quantified as a second measure of central recruitment. Torque was not different for stimulation over the nerve or the muscle. In contrast, M waves were approximately five to six times smaller, and H reflexes were approximately two to three times larger during NMES over the nerve vs. the muscle. Asynchronous activity increased by 50% over time, regardless of the stimulation location or pattern, and was largest during NMES over the muscle belly. Compared with NMES over the triceps surae muscles, NMES over the tibial nerve produced contractions with a relatively greater central contribution, and this may help reduce muscle atrophy and fatigue when NMES is used for rehabilitation.
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