Motor neurons receive both common and independent synaptic inputs. This observation is classically based on the presence of a significant correlation between pairs of motor unit spike trains. The functional significance of different relative proportions of common input across muscles, individuals and conditions is still debated. One of the limitations in our understanding of correlated input to motor neurons is that it has not been possible so far to quantify the absolute proportion of common input with respect to the total synaptic input received by the motor neurons. Indeed, correlation measures of pairs of output spike trains only allow for relative comparisons. In the present study, we report for the first time an approach for measuring the proportion of common input in the low frequency bandwidth (<5 Hz) to a motor neuron pool in humans. This estimate is based on a phenomenological model and the theoretical fitting of the experimental values of coherence between the permutations of groups of motor unit spike trains. We demonstrate the validity of this theoretical estimate with several simulations. Moreover, we applied this method to three human muscles: the abductor digiti minimi, tibialis anterior and vastus medialis. Despite these muscles having different functional roles and control properties, as confirmed by the results of the present study, we estimate that their motor pools receive a similar and large (>60%) proportion of common low frequency oscillations with respect to their total synaptic input. These results suggest that the central nervous system provides a large amount of common input to motor neuron pools, in a similar way to that for muscles with different functional and control properties.
Negro, F., Yavuz, U. S., & Farina, D. (2016). The human motor neuron pools receive a dominant slow-varying common synaptic input. The Journal of Physiology, 594(19), 5491-5505. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP271748