Estimating reflex responses in large populations of motor units by decomposition of the high-density surface electromyogram

Yavuz U. Ş., Negro F., Sebik O., Holobar A., Frömmel C., Türker K. S., ...More

Journal of Physiology, vol.593, no.19, pp.4305-4318, 2015 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 593 Issue: 19
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Doi Number: 10.1113/jp270635
  • Journal Name: Journal of Physiology
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.4305-4318
  • Istanbul Gelisim University Affiliated: No


We propose and validate a non-invasive method that enables accurate detection of the discharge times of a relatively large number of motor units during excitatory and inhibitory reflex stimulations. High-density surface electromyography (HDsEMG) and intramuscular EMG (iEMG) were recorded from the tibialis anterior muscle during ankle dorsiflexions performed at 5%, 10% and 20% of the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) force, in nine healthy subjects. The tibial nerve (inhibitory reflex) and the peroneal nerve (excitatory reflex) were stimulated with constant current stimuli. In total, 416 motor units were identified from the automatic decomposition of the HDsEMG. The iEMG was decomposed using a state-of-the-art decomposition tool and provided 84 motor units (average of two recording sites). The reflex responses of the detected motor units were analysed using the peri-stimulus time histogram (PSTH) and the peri-stimulus frequencygram (PSF). The reflex responses of the common motor units identified concurrently from the HDsEMG and the iEMG signals showed an average disagreement (the difference between number of observed spikes in each bin relative to the mean) of 8.2 ± 2.2% (5% MVC), 6.8 ± 1.0% (10% MVC) and 7.5 ± 2.2% (20% MVC), for reflex inhibition, and 6.5 ± 4.1%, 12.0 ± 1.8% and 13.9 ± 2.4%, for reflex excitation. There was no significant difference between the characteristics of the reflex responses, such as latency, amplitude and duration, for the motor units identified by both techniques. Finally, reflex responses could be identified at higher force (4 of the 9 subjects performed contraction up to 50% MVC) using HDsEMG but not iEMG, because of the difficulty in decomposing the iEMG at high forces. In conclusion, single motor unit reflex responses can be estimated accurately and non-invasively in relatively large populations of motor units using HDsEMG. This non-invasive approach may enable a more thorough investigation of the synaptic input distribution on active motor units at various force levels.