Motor units in vastus lateralis and in different vastus medialis regions show different firing properties during low-level, isometric knee extension contraction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • Universidade Federal Do Rio de Janeiro
  • Politecnico di Torino


Architectural differences along vastus medialis (VM) and between VM and vastus lateralis (VL) are considered functionally important for the patellar tracking, knee joint stability and knee joint extension. Whether these functional differences are associated with a differential activity of motor units between VM and VL is however unknown. In the present study, we, therefore, investigate neuroanatomical differences in the activity of motor units detected proximo-distally from VM and from the VL muscle. Nine healthy volunteers performed low-level isometric knee extension contractions (20% of their maximum voluntary contraction) following a trapezoidal trajectory. Surface electromyograms (EMGs) were recorded from VM proximal and distal regions and from VL using three linear adhesive arrays of eight electrodes. The firing rate and recruitment threshold of motor units decomposed from EMGs were then compared among muscle regions. Results show that VL motor units reached lower mean firing rates in comparison with VM motor units, regardless of their position within VM (P < .040). No significant differences in firing rate were found between proximal and distal, VM motor units (P = .997). Furthermore, no significant differences in the recruitment threshold were observed for all motor units analysed (P = .108). Our findings possibly suggest the greater potential of VL to generate force, due to its fibres arrangement, may account for the lower discharge rate observed for VL then either proximally or distally detected motor units in VM. Additionally, the present study opens new perspectives on the importance of considering muscle architecture in investigations of the neural aspects of motor behaviour.


Original languageEnglish
Article number58
Pages (from-to)307
Number of pages314
JournalHuman Movement Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, Surface electromyography, motor unit, quadriceps