Altered motor unit discharge patterns in paretic muscles of stroke survivors assessed using surface electromyography

Xiaogang Hu, Aneesha K. Suresh, William Z. Rymer, Nina L. Suresh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Objective. Hemispheric stroke survivors often show impairments in voluntary muscle activation. One potential source of these impairments could come from altered control of muscle, via disrupted motor unit (MU) firing patterns. In this study, we sought to determine whether MU firing patterns are modified on the affected side of stroke survivors, as compared with the analogous contralateral muscle. Approach. Using a novel surface electromyogram (EMG) sensor array, coupled with advanced template recognition software (dEMG) we recorded surface EMG signals over the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle on both paretic and contralateral sides. Recordings were made as stroke survivors produced isometric index finger abductions over a large force range (20%-60% of maximum). Utilizing the dEMG algorithm, MU firing rates, recruitment thresholds, and action potential amplitudes were estimated for concurrently active MUs in each trial. Main results. Our results reveal significant changes in the firing rate patterns in paretic FDI muscle, in that the discharge rates, characterized in relation to recruitment force threshold and to MU size, were less clearly correlated with recruitment force than in contralateral FDI muscles. Firing rates in the affected muscle also did not modulate systematically with the level of voluntary muscle contraction, as would be expected in intact muscles. These disturbances in firing properties also correlated closely with the impairment of muscle force generation. Significance. Our results provide strong evidence of disruptions in MU firing behavior in paretic muscles after a hemispheric stroke, suggesting that modified control of the spinal motoneuron pool could be a contributing factor to muscular weakness in stroke survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number046025
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 19 2016


  • chronic stroke
  • firing rate
  • motor unit
  • muscle weakness
  • surface electromyogram

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Engineering


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