Compensatory adjustments in motor unit behavior during fatigue differ for younger versus older men

Jacob A. Mota, Dennis P. Kwon, Mary Kennedy, Eric J. Sobolewski, Youngdeok Kim, Joaquin U. Gonzales, Matt S. Stock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The ability to maintain a submaximal force as a muscle fatigues is supplemented by compensatory adjustments in the nervous system’s control of motor units. Aim: We sought to compare vastus lateralis motor unit recruitment and firing rate data for younger versus older men during isometric fatigue. Methods: Twelve younger (age = 25 ± 3 years) and 12 older (75 ± 8 years) men performed contractions of the knee extensors at 50% of maximal voluntary contraction force until exhaustion. Surface electromyographic (sEMG) signals were detected from the vastus lateralis. A sEMG signal decomposition algorithm was used to quantify the motor unit action potential (MUAP) amplitude, mean firing rates, and recruitment threshold of each motor unit. For the latter two variables, our analyses only included motor units that featured similar action potential amplitude throughout the protocol. Results: There was no group difference for time to task failure (p = 0.362, d = 0.381). Both groups showed increases in MUAP amplitude [younger and older slopes = 0.0174 ± 0.0123 and 0.0073 ± 0.0123 mV/contraction, respectively (p = 0.082, d = 0.710)], but the change was more linear for the younger men (mean r2 values = 0.565 and 0.455). Mean firing rates increased over time for the younger (p < 0.001), but not the older (p = 0.579), men. Similarly, recruitment thresholds decreased for younger men (p = 0.001). Conclusion: We propose that aging results in neuromuscular impairments that hinder older adults’ ability to make compensatory adjustments in motor unit control during fatigue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2259-2269
Number of pages11
JournalAging Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Force
  • Knee extensors
  • Motor unit
  • Neuromuscular


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