Following (tracking) individual motor units over time can provide important new insights, both into the relationships among various motor unit (MU) morphological and functional properties and into how these properties are influenced by neuromuscular disorders or interventions. The present study aimed to determine whether high-density surface EMG (HD-sEMG) recordings, which use an array of surface electrodes over a muscle, can increase the yield of MU tracking studies in terms of the number of MUs that can be tracked. For that purpose, four HD-sEMG recording sessions were performed on the thenar muscles of ten healthy subjects. Decomposition of the recorded composite responses yielded a study total of 2849 motor unit action potentials (MUAPs). MUAPs that were found in both of the first two sessions, performed on the same day, were defined as trackable MUAPs. Our results show that 22 (median value; range, 13-34) MUAPs per nerve were trackable, which represented approximately 5% of the total MU population. Of these trackable MUAPs, 16 (11-26) could also be found in one or both of the third and fourth sessions, which were performed between 1 and 13 weeks after the initial studies. Nine (4-18) MUAPs were found in all four sessions. Many of the characteristic MUAP shapes matched well between sessions, even when these sessions were several weeks apart. However, some MUAPs seem very sensitive to changes in arm position or in the muscle's morphology (e.g., to changes in muscle fiber length due to variable degrees of thumb flexion or extension), particularly those from larger and/or superficial MUs. Standardization is, therefore, essential to detect even small MUAP changes, as may occur with pathology or interventions. If this is accomplished, MU tracking with HD-sEMG may prove to be a powerful tool for a promising type of neurophysiological investigation.

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Journal of Electromyography & Kinesiology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Maathuis, E., Drenthen, J., van Dijk, J., Visser, G. H., & Blok, J. (2008). Motor unit tracking with high-density surface EMG. Journal of Electromyography & Kinesiology, 18(6), 920–930. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2008.09.001