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      A Neuro-Mechanical Model of a Single Leg Joint Highlighting the Basic Physiological Role of Fast and Slow Muscle Fibres of an Insect Muscle System

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          In legged animals, the muscle system has a dual function: to produce forces and torques necessary to move the limbs in a systematic way, and to maintain the body in a static position. These two functions are performed by the contribution of specialized motor units, i.e. motoneurons driving sets of specialized muscle fibres. With reference to their overall contraction and metabolic properties they are called fast and slow muscle fibres and can be found ubiquitously in skeletal muscles. Both fibre types are active during stepping, but only the slow ones maintain the posture of the body. From these findings, the general hypothesis on a functional segregation between both fibre types and their neuronal control has arisen. Earlier muscle models did not fully take this aspect into account. They either focused on certain aspects of muscular function or were developed to describe specific behaviours only. By contrast, our neuro-mechanical model is more general as it allows functionally to differentiate between static and dynamic aspects of movement control. It does so by including both muscle fibre types and separate motoneuron drives. Our model helps to gain a deeper insight into how the nervous system might combine neuronal control of locomotion and posture. It predicts that (1) positioning the leg at a specific retraction angle in steady state is most likely due to the extent of recruitment of slow muscle fibres and not to the force developed in the individual fibres of the antagonistic muscles; (2) the fast muscle fibres of antagonistic muscles contract alternately during stepping, while co-contraction of the slow muscle fibres takes place during steady state; (3) there are several possible ways of transition between movement and steady state of the leg achieved by varying the time course of recruitment of the fibres in the participating muscles.

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          Most cited references 21

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          Excitability and inhibitability of motoneurons of different sizes.

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            The mechanics of active muscle.

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              Input-output functions of mammalian motoneurons.

              Our intent in this review was to consider the relationship between the biophysical properties of motoneurons and the mechanisms by which they transduce the synaptic inputs they receive into changes in their firing rates. Our emphasis has been on experimental results obtained over the past twenty years, which have shown that motoneurons are just as complex and interesting as other central neurons. This work has shown that motoneurons are endowed with a rich complement of active dendritic conductances, and flexible control of both somatic and dendritic channels by endogenous neuromodulators. Although this new information requires some revision of the simple view of motoneuron input-output properties that was prevalent in the early 1980's (see sections 2.3 and 2.10), the basic aspects of synaptic transduction by motoneurons can still be captured by a relatively simple input-output model (see section 2.3, equations 1-3). It remains valid to describe motoneuron recruitment as a product of the total synaptic current delivered to the soma, the effective input resistance of the motoneuron and the somatic voltage threshold for spike initiation (equations 1 and 2). However, because of the presence of active channels activated in the subthreshold range, both the delivery of synaptic current and the effective input resistance depend upon membrane potential. In addition, activation of metabotropic receptors by achetylcholine, glutamate, noradrenaline, serotonin, substance P and thyrotropin releasing factor (TRH) can alter the properties of various voltage- and calcium-sensitive channels and thereby affect synaptic current delivery and input resistance. Once motoneurons are activated, their steady-state rate of repetitive discharge is linearly related to the amount of injected or synaptic current reaching the soma (equation 3). However, the slope of this relation, the minimum discharge rate and the threshold current for repetitive discharge are all subject to neuromodulatory control. There are still a number of unresolved issues concerning the control of motoneuron discharge by synaptic inputs. Under dynamic conditions, when synaptic input is rapidly changing, time- and activity-dependent changes in the state of ionic channels will alter both synaptic current delivery to the spike-generating conductances and the relation between synaptic current and discharge rate. There is at present no general quantitative expression for motoneuron input-output properties under dynamic conditions. Even under steady-state conditions, the biophysical mechanisms underlying the transfer of synaptic current from the dendrites to the soma are not well understood, due to the paucity of direct recordings from motoneuron dendrites. It seems likely that resolving these important issues will keep motoneuron afficiandoes well occupied during the next twenty years.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                11 November 2013
                : 8
                : 11
                [1 ]Emmy Noether Research Group of Computational Biology, Department of Animal Physiology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
                [2 ]Department of Animal Physiology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
                Mount Sinai School of Medicine, United States of America
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: TT SD-G. Performed the experiments: TT SD-G. Analyzed the data: TT JS SD-G. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: AB SD-G. Wrote the paper: TT JS AB SD-G.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 12
                Funding provided by Emmy Noether Programme DA 1182/1-1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparartion of the manuscript.
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