A motor unit-based model of muscle fatigue

Jim R. Potvin, Andrew J. Fuglevand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Muscle fatigue is a temporary decline in the force and power capacity of skeletal muscle resulting from muscle activity. Because control of muscle is realized at the level of the motor unit (MU), it seems important to consider the physiological properties of motor units when attempting to understand and predict muscle fatigue. Therefore, we developed a phenomenological model of motor unit fatigue as a tractable means to predict muscle fatigue for a variety of tasks and to illustrate the individual contractile responses of MUs whose collective action determines the trajectory of changes in muscle force capacity during prolonged activity. An existing MU population model was used to simulate MU firing rates and isometric muscle forces and, to that model, we added fatigue-related changes in MU force, contraction time, and firing rate associated with sustained voluntary contractions. The model accurately estimated endurance times for sustained isometric contractions across a wide range of target levels. In addition, simulations were run for situations that have little experimental precedent to demonstrate the potential utility of the model to predict motor unit fatigue for more complicated, real-world applications. Moreover, the model provided insight into the complex orchestration of MU force contributions during fatigue, that would be unattainable with current experimental approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1005581
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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