The recruitment order of motoneurones in muscle contractions has been held to be largely constant and determined by the size of the cell. However, as shown in a previous investigation using electromyographic techniques, the order in which different motor units are activated during voluntary muscle contractions changes in normal human subjects on shifts from phasic to tonic contraction. In order to investigate these two types of activity also in cases in which the cerebral influence on the motoneurone pool is blocked, an analysis was made of the recruitment order in phasic and tonic flexion reflexes in 10 patients with total interruption of the spinal cord. The following four principles were found to apply and presumed to be generally valid for the isolated human spinal cord: (1) in the phasic exteroceptive reflex, the order of recruitment varies despite application of a standardized stimulus; (2) in the tonic reflex, the first unit to be recruited is usually the same even with widely different types of stimuli; (3) a shift from phasic to tonic reflex activation may result in considerable changes in recruitment order; (4) after facilitation by a subliminal long-lasting stimulus, the first unit to be recruited in the phasic reflex is also the first to be recruited in the tonic reflex. It is suggested that a tonic influence on the motoneurone pool is required for the presupposed constancy of the recruitment order.
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