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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Human masseter motor unit behaviour McMillan, Anne Sinclair


There is a dearth of knowledge on the functional organization of the anatomically complex human masseter muscle. Limited physiological studies suggest a functional organization which may differ significantly from human limb muscles. The present studies aimed to examine the putative relationship between structure and function in the human masseter muscle as a basis for understanding function and dysfunction in human jaw muscles. In the first experiment single motor unit (SMU) activity was recorded from pairs of recording sites distributed throughout the masseter muscle. In each case SMU activity at a chosen location was used as a reference to search for synchronized SMU activity at another selected site. The locations of the needle tips were estimated in 3-dimensions (3-D) by means of an optical system, then transferred to 3-D reconstructions derived from Magnetic Resonance images. This approach permitted calculation of the linear distances between verified muscle recording sites. The mean separation of the sites from which synchronous SMU activity could be recorded was 8.8±3.4mm. The putative territories had a preferred orientation in the antero-posterior axis. Motor unit territories were larger than described previously, and appeared to be related to anatomical compartments. The second experiment involved recording activity from stereotactically mapped masseter SMUs. In each case, the lowest sustainable firing frequency (LSFF) was reached by slow increases and decreases in voluntary firing rate, followed by sustained firing at the lowest possible rate. Pulse-discrimination and digital sampling of consecutive inter-spike intervals (ISIs) were then used to measure LSFF for 2-6 separate occlusal and postural tasks to which each unit contributed. There were significant differences between mean ISIs for the tasks performed by most units, which suggests descending drive to masseter units is highly task-dependent. There were also regional differences in unit task specificities. In the third paradigm, reflex SMU activity was recorded from units in the masseter muscle and the inferior head of the lateral pterygoid muscle. Bipolar electrodes fixed to the gingiva near the maxillary canine delivered single pulses of 1ms duration at sub-noxious levels of intensity. At constrained firing frequencies (10, 15Hz), pulses were injected sequentially, with increasing delays, after preselected spikes. More profound inhibition occurred in units firing at 10 than 15Hz. There were significant differences in masseter inhibitory responses when the unit task varied. Reflex inhibition in masseter and lateral pterygoid SMUs is highly frequency-dependent, and also task-dependent in masseter units. The fourth study involved recording activity from SMUs in the masseter muscle. A midline load cell was fixed to the incisor teeth and aligned either perpendicular (P) or 30 degrees anterior (A) to the occlusal plane, without altering jaw position. A rigid spike-triggered averaging (STA) paradigm was used to extract the contribution of individual SMUs to the overall force at load cell orientations P and A. Spikes preceded or followed by an interval of less than 100ms were rejected prior to averaging. At background bite forces from 0.06-8N, the isometric forces apparently developed by individual units varied randomly with load cell orientations, (P range 36.2±19.6mN; A range 38.2±28.4mN). All units could be fired slowly with varying degrees of muscle coactivation, in some instances without contact on the load cell. The use of STA as a method for determining SMU tension in the masseter muscle appears to be task-dependent and in the presence of coactivation may be inappropriate. The findings collectively indicate the heterogeneous nature of SMU behaviour in the human masseter muscle which is consistent with internal muscle compartments based on anatomical features and functional behaviour. There thus appear to be both physiological and anatomical substrates for differential motor control of selected regions of the human masseter muscle.

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