Firing patterns of human genioglossus motor units during voluntary tongue movement

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The tongue participates in a range of complex oromotor behaviors, including mastication, swallowing, respiration, and speech. Previous electromyographic studies of the human tongue have focused on respiratory-related tongue muscle activities and their role in maintaining upper airway patency. Remarkably, the activities of human hypoglossal motor units have not been studied during the execution of voluntary maneuvers. We recorded single motor unit activity using tungsten microelectrodes in the genioglossus muscle of 10 healthy human subjects performing both slow tongue protrusions and a static holding maneuver. Displacement of the tongue was detected by an isotonic transducer coupled to the lingual surface through a customized lever arm. For protrusion trials, the firing rate at recruitment was 13.1 ± 3 Hz and increased steeply to an average of 24 ± 6 Hz, often with very modest increases in tongue protrusion. For the static holding task, the average firing rate was 16.1 ± 4 Hz, which is surprisingly high relative to limb motor units. The average coefficient of variation of interspike intervals was ∼20% (range, 10-28%). These are the first recordings of their type obtained in human subjects and provide an initial glimpse into the voluntary control of hypoglossal motoneurons during tongue movements presumably instigated by activity in the motor cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)933-936
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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