Using a single fibre EMG electrode the firing pattern of 46 motor units in the triceps surae has been studied during vibration of the Achilles tendon at frequencies of 25--200 Hz. Potentials activated in the tonic vibration reflex (TVR) were phase-locked to the vibration cycle but tended to become somewhat less so with continued vibration. The firing pattern of voluntarily activated motor units became locked to the waveform by the application of the vibrator. The discharges of 21 motor units were studied during low threshold (sub-M wave) tetanic stimulation of the tibial nerve at 25--100 Hz. No evidence was found of synchronization of potentials activated in the resulting tonic contraction. During weak voluntary contractions, stimulation also failed to regularize voluntarily activated motor units. The findings can be reconciled by postulating that, in normal man, vibration activates monosynaptic and polysynaptic pathways, the latter circuit being adequate to generate reflex contraction, while the former merely affects the temporal patterning of the motor outflow.
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