Behavior of motor units in human biceps brachii during a submaximal fatiguing contraction.
The activity of 50 single motor units was recorded in the biceps brachii muscle of human subjects while they performed submaximal isometric elbow flexion contractions that were sustained to induce fatigue. The purposes of this study were to examine the influence of fatigue on motor unit threshold force and to determine the relationship between the threshold force of recruitment and the initial interimpulse interval on the discharge rates of single motor units during a fatiguing contraction. The discharge rate of most motor units that were active from the beginning of the contraction declined during the fatiguing contraction, whereas the discharge rates of most newly recruited units were either constant or increased slightly. The absolute threshold forces of recruitment and derecruitment decreased, and the variability of interimpulse intervals increased after the fatigue task. The change in motor unit discharge rate during the fatigue task was related to the initial rate, but the direction of the change in discharge rate could not be predicted from the threshold force of recruitment or the variability in the interimpulse intervals. The discharge rate of most motor units declined despite an increase in the excitatory drive to the motoneuron pool during the fatigue task.