1. The effects of four different synaptic input systems on the recruitment order within a mammalian motoneuron pool were investigated using computer simulations. The synaptic inputs and motor unit properties in the model were based as closely as possible on the available experimental data for the cat medial gastrocnemius pool and muscle. Monte Carlo techniques were employed to add random variance to the motor unit thresholds and forces and to sample the resulting recruitment orders. 2. The effects of the synaptic inputs on recruitment order depended on how they modified the range of recruitment thresholds established by differences in the intrinsic current thresholds of the motoneurons. Application of a uniform synaptic input to the pool (i.e., distributed equally to all motoneurons) resulted in a recruitment sequence that was quite stable even with the addition of large amounts of random variance. With 50% added random variance, the recruitment reversals did not exceed 8%. 3. The simulated monosynaptic input from homonymous Ia afferent fibers generated a twofold expansion of the range of recruitment thresholds beyond that attributed to the differences in the intrinsic current thresholds. The Ia input generated a small reduction in the number of recruitment reversals due to random variance (6% reversals at 50% random variance). The simulated monosynaptic vestibulospinal input generated a twofold compression of the range of recruitment thresholds that exerted a modest increase in the number of recruitment reversals (12% reversals at 50% random variance). 4. In comparison with the modest effects of the two monosynaptic inputs, the simulated oligosynaptic rubrospinal excitatory input exerted a nine-fold compression in the recruitment threshold range that resulted in a recruitment sequence that was highly sensitive to random variance. With 50% added random variance, the sequence became nearly random (40% reversals). 5. Reciprocal Ia inhibition was simulated by a uniform distribution within the pool, but its effects on recruitment order were highly dependent on the distribution of the excitatory input. Reciprocal inhibition exerted only minor effects on recruitment order when combined with the Ia or vestibulospinal inputs. However, when the excitatory drive was supplied by the rubrospinal input, even small amounts of reciprocal inhibition were sufficient to completely reverse the normal recruitment sequence. 6. The simulated monosynaptic Ia input was highly effective in compensating for the disruptive effects of rubrospinal excitation on recruitment order. Even a small Ia bias combined with the rubrospinal excitation was sufficient to halve the effects of random variance and to restore the normal recruitment sequence in the presence of rather large amounts of reciprocal inhibition. These results support our hypothesis that a major role of the monosynaptic Ia pathway might be to preserve orderly recruitment when the motoneuron pool is activated by different combinations of synaptic inputs and in the presence of varying amounts of random variance. 7. The simulation techniques also provided a quantitative basis for relating the recruitment order correlation coefficients typically reported in human studies with the percentages of reversals reported in studies on the decerebrate cat. The human recruitment data generally exhibit substantially more disorder than do the decerebrate cat data, which may reflect substantial differences in the organization of the synaptic inputs to cat and human motoneuron pools. Alternatively, the greater disorder in human studies may simply result from a greater degree of measurement error. 8. The interaction between Ia reciprocal inhibition and the distribution of excitatory input potentially provides a technique for investigating these two alternatives. If the greater recruitment disorder in human subjects largely reflects measurement error, addition of reciprocal inhibition will have no significant effect. If the increase reflects a more compressed range of recruitment thresholds, then the addition of reciprocal inhibition will further increase the recruitment disorder.
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