Research ArticleNEUROPHYSIOLOGY

Spinal motoneurons of the human newborn are highly synchronized during leg movements

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Science Advances  20 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 47, eabc3916
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc3916

Abstract

Motoneurons of neonatal rodents show synchronous activity that modulates the development of the neuromuscular system. However, the characteristics of the activity of human neonatal motoneurons are largely unknown. Using a noninvasive neural interface, we identified the discharge timings of individual spinal motoneurons in human newborns. We found highly synchronized activities of motoneurons of the tibialis anterior muscle, which were associated with fast leg movements. Although neonates’ motor units exhibited discharge rates similar to those of adults, their synchronization was significantly greater than in adults. Moreover, neonatal motor units showed coherent oscillations in the delta band, which is directly translated into force generation. These results suggest that motoneuron synchronization in human neonates might be an important mechanism for controlling fast limb movements, such as those of primitive reflexes. In addition to help revealing mechanisms of development, the proposed neural interface might monitor children at risk of developing motor disorders.

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