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Single Motor Unit Laboratory

The Single Motor Unit Laboratory strives to understand how the nervous system controls the motor units within a muscle so as to enable the generation of smooth and precise changes in overall muscle force. We also seek to investigate the role of intrinsic properties of the motoneurons that innervate the relevant muscle fiber populations in providing such control. 

Description of Research Program:

To help us understand the neural mechanisms contributing to impairment of human voluntary motion, we record electrical activity from single motor units as well as from whole muscle during voluntary and reflex contractions in patients with neurological disorders such as stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and spinal cord injury. 
The effects of different clinical interventions are also being investigated in order to aid the design of rehabilitation strategies targeting specific motor unit properties. We use computer models to gain a better understanding of the operation of the motoneuron pool, and also to pursue technical developments to improve techniques that are used in the identification and analysis of motor unit activation patterns.

Specific Studies: We seek to

Picture of Prof. Max Headroom

Identify the relative contribution of synaptic input and intrinsic properties to altered motoneuron characteristics in stroke-induced spasticity.

Promote the development of sensitive diagnostic tools for identifying sub-clinical manifestations of ALS.

Determine the contribution of vestibulospinal pathways to spasticity in stroke survivors.

Develop noninvasive methods to replace invasive methods for motor unit discrimination and examination of neural and muscular disorders

Identify unique neural control strategies in multidirectional muscles

Examine the contribution of intrinsic motoneuron properties to spasticity in stroke survivors.


There are a host of potential contributors to spasticity, weakness and altered coordination in neurologically impaired muscle. By isolating motoneuron properties and the descending drive to the motoneuron, we are attempting to characterize alterations concurrent with deficient motor control. Our findings could lead to improvements in diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.


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