Examination of poststroke alteration in motor unit firing behavior using high-density surface EMG decomposition

Xiaoyan Li, Aleš Holobar, Marco Gazzoni, Roberto Merletti, William Zev Rymer, Ping Zhou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Recent advances in high-density surface electromyogram (EMG) decomposition have made it a feasible task to discriminate single motor unit activity from surface EMG interference patterns, thus providing a noninvasive approach for examination of motor unit control properties. In the current study, we applied high-density surface EMG recording and decomposition techniques to assess motor unit firing behavior alterations poststroke. Surface EMG signals were collected using a 64-channel 2-D electrode array from the paretic and contralateral first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscles of nine hemiparetic stroke subjects at different isometric discrete contraction levels between 2 to 10 N with a 2 N increment step. Motor unit firing rates were extracted through decomposition of the high-density surface EMG signals and compared between paretic and contralateral muscles. Across the nine tested subjects, paretic FDI muscles showed decreased motor unit firing rates compared with contralateral muscles at different contraction levels. Regression analysis indicated a linear relation between the mean motor unit firing rate and the muscle contraction level for both paretic and contralateral muscles (p < 0.001), with the former demonstrating a lower increment rate (0.32 pulses per second (pps)/N) compared with the latter (0.67 pps/N). The coefficient of variation (averaged over the contraction levels) of the motor unit firing rates for the paretic muscles (0.21 ± 0.012) was significantly higher than for the contralateral muscles (0.17 ± 0.014) (p < 0.05). This study provides direct evidence of motor unit firing behavior alterations poststroke using surface EMG, which can be an important factor contributing to hemiparetic muscle weakness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6949607
Pages (from-to)1242-1252
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Hemiparetic stroke
  • decomposition
  • high density surface EMG
  • motor unit firing rate
  • muscle weakness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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