Exogenous neuromodulation of spinal neurons induces beta-band coherence during self-sustained discharge of hind limb motor unit populations

Christopher K. Thompson, Michael D. Johnson, Francesco Negro, Laura Miller McPherson, Dario Farina, Charles J. Heckman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The spontaneous or self-sustained discharge of spinal motoneurons can be observed in both animals and humans. Although the origins of this self-sustained discharge are not fully known, it can be generated by activation of persistent inward currents intrinsic to the motoneuron. If self-sustained discharge is generated exclusively through this intrinsic mechanism, the discharge of individual motor units will be relatively independent of one another. Alternatively, if increased activation of premotor circuits underlies this prolonged discharge of spinal motoneurons, we would expect correlated activity among motoneurons. Our aim is to assess potential synaptic drive by quantifying coherence during self-sustained discharge of spinal motoneurons. Electromyographic activity was collected from 20 decerebrate animals using a 64-channel electrode grid placed on the isolated soleus muscle before and following intrathecal administration of methoxamine, a selective 1-noradrenergic agonist. Sustained muscle activity was recorded and decomposed into the discharge times of ~10-30 concurrently active individual motor units. Consistent with previous reports, the selfsustained discharge of motor units occurred at low mean discharge rates with low-interspike variability. Before methoxamine administration, significant low-frequency coherence (<2 Hz) was observed, while minimal coherence was observed within higher frequency bands. Following intrathecal administration of methoxamine, increases in motor unit discharge rates and strong coherence in both the low-frequency and 15- to 30-Hz beta bands were observed. These data demonstrate beta-band coherence among motor units can be observed through noncortical mechanisms and that neuromodulation of spinal/ brainstem neurons greatly influences coherent discharge within spinal motor pools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1034-1041
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019


  • Cat
  • Coherence
  • Motoneuron
  • Motor unit
  • Neuromodulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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