A motor unit is a single α-motor neuron and all of the corresponding muscle fibers it innervates. When a motor unit is activated, all of its fibers contract. Groups of motor units often work together to coordinate the contractions of a single muscle; all of the motor units that subserve a single muscle are considered a motor unit pool.
The number of muscle fibers within each unit can vary: thigh muscles can have a thousand fibers in each unit, eye muscles might have ten. In general, the number of muscle fibers innervated by a motor unit is a function of a muscle's need for refined motion. The smaller the motor unit, the more precise the action of the muscle. Muscles requiring more refined motion are innervated by motor units that synapse with fewer muscle fibers.
In medical electrodiagnostic testing for a patient with weakness, careful analysis of the "motor unit action potential" (MUAP) size, shape, and recruitment pattern can help in distinguishing a myopathy from a neuropathy.
- motor unit recruitment
- tetanic contraction
- myopathy (muscle pathology/diseases)
- motor unit number estimation