Motor unit number in a small facial muscle, dilator naris

Nilam Patel-Khurana, Ralph F. Fregosi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A loss of functioning motor units underlies many neuromuscular disorders. The facial nerve innervates the muscles of facial expression, including nasal muscles, which also play an important role in the regulation of airflow resistance. It is difficult to accurately assess motor unit number in the facial muscles, because the muscles are difficult to activate in isolation. Here, we apply the manual McComas method to estimate the number of motor units in a nasal dilator muscle. EMG of the dilator naris was recorded during graded stimulation of the zygomatic branch of the facial nerve in 26 subjects (12 males and 14 females), aged 20–41 years. Each subject was studied twice, on separate days, to estimate method reproducibility. As a check on our use of the McComas method, we also estimated motor unit number in the first dorsal interosseus muscle (FDI) of six subjects, as the muscle is also small and has been studied with the McComas method. Reproducibility was evaluated with a rigorous statistical approach, the Bland–Altman procedure. We estimate that dilator naris is composed of 75 ± 15.6 (SD) motor units, compared to 144 ± 35.5 in FDI. The coefficient of variation for test–retest reproducibility of dilator naris motor unit estimates was 29.6 %, similar to separate-day reproducibility reported for other muscles. Recording and stimulation were done with surface electrodes, and the recordings were of high quality and reproducible. This simple technique could be applied clinically to track motor neuron loss and to monitor facial nerve integrity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2897-2902
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 26 2015


  • EMG
  • Facial nerve
  • MUNE
  • Motor units
  • Nasal muscles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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