Evidence from five-digit grasping studies indicates that grip forces exerted by pairs of digits tend to be synchronized. It has been suggested that motor unit synchronization might be a mechanism responsible for constraining the temporal relationships between grip forces. To evaluate this possibility and quantify the effect of motor unit synchrony on force relationships, we used a motor unit model to simulate force produced by two muscles using three physiological levels of motor unit synchrony across the two muscles. In one condition, motor units in the two muscles discharged independently of one another. In the other two conditions, the timing of randomly selected motor unit discharges in one muscle was adjusted to impose low or high levels of synchrony with motor units in the other muscle. Fast Fourier transform analysis was performed to compute the phase differences between forces from 0.5 to 17 Hz. We used circular statistics to assess whether the phase differences at each frequency were randomly or non-randomly distributed (Rayleigh test). The mean phase difference was then computed on the non-random distributions. We found that the number of significant phase-difference distributions increased markedly with increasing synchronization strength from 18% for no synchrony to 65% and 82% for modest and strong synchrony conditions, respectively. Importantly, most of the mean angles clustered at very small phase difference values (∼0 to 10°), indicating a strong tendency for forces to be exerted in a synchronous fashion. These results suggest that motor unit synchronization could play a significant functional role in the coordination of grip forces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-508
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Force control
  • Motoneurons
  • Motor unit
  • Synchrony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Role of across-muscle motor unit synchrony for the coordination of forces'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this