Metabolic and morphological stability of motoneurons in response to chronically elevated neuromuscular activity

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Occupational Therapy


The purpose of this study was to determine the plasticity of spinal motoneuron size and succinate dehydrogenase activity in response to increased levels of neuromuscular activation and/or increased target size. The plantaris muscles of adult rats were functionally overloaded for one or 10 weeks via the removal of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles bilaterally. In addition, one group of functionally overloaded rats at each time period was trained daily (1 h/day) on a treadmill. The plantaris muscle on one side in each rat was injected with the fluorescent tracer Nuclear Yellow two days prior to the end of the study to retrogradely label the associated motor pool. At one week, the plantaris weight was increased compared to control, whereas there was no change in motoneuron size. Succinate dehydrogenase activity was unaffected in either the muscle or motoneurons. At 10 weeks, the plantaris muscle weight was larger and the succinate dehydrogenase activity lower in the functionally overloaded rats compared to age-matched controls. Training further increased the hypertrophic response, whereas the succinate dehydrogenase activity returned to control levels. In contrast, mean motoneuron size and succinate dehydrogenase activity were similar among the three groups.

These data indicate that overload of a specific motor pool, involving both an increase in activation and an increase in target size, had a minimal effect on the size or the oxidative potential of the associated motoneurons. Thus, it appears that the spinal motoneurons, unlike the muscle fibers, are highly stable over a wide range of levels of chronic neuromuscular activity.