Muscular dysfunctions involving a decline in muscle strength are often induced by loss of muscle mass in older adults. Understanding neural activation in older adults in addition to muscular characteristics may be important to prevent such age-related dysfunctions. This study aimed to investigate the difference in motor unit firing patterns between community-dwelling older individuals with normal and low skeletal muscle mass. Sixty-six older adults (62–90 years) performed muscle strength and function tests. On conducting high-density surface electromyography of the vastus lateralis, individual motor unit firing properties were assessed. Individual motor units were divided into three different recruitment threshold groups and their firing rates were compared. The skeletal muscle quantity and quality were assessed using bioimpedance methods and ultrasound images. They were divided into two groups according to sarcopenia criteria: a normal group (n = 39) and presarcopenia group with low skeletal muscle mass but normal physical functions (n = 21). Skeletal muscle mass and muscle thickness were greater and echo intensity was lower in the normal group than presarcopenia group. Motor units in normal older adults fired at different rates with a hierarchy depending on their recruitment threshold, observed as a normal phenomenon. However, motor units in the presarcopenia group fired without showing the hierarchical pattern. The results suggest that older adults with low skeletal muscle mass exhibited an abnormal neural input pattern, in addition to declines in muscle quantity and quality.
ASJC Scopus subject areas