ZiMT Journal Club January 2021: Prof. Alessandro Del Vecchio / Interfacing the intact and damaged nervous system

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Motor unit discharge timings and smoothed discharge rates

Prof. Dr. Alessandro Del Vecchio, Junior Professor of Neuromuscular Physiology and Neural Interfacing, Department of Artificial Intelligence in Biomedical Engineering (AIBE), FAU

Interfacing the intact and damaged nervous system

We move, eat, and breath through the combined activation of groups of muscles. Muscle force is controlled by coordinated sequences of motoneuronal discharge timings. The alpha-motoneurons in the ventral horn of the spinal cord represent the “final common pathway” of movement. Each motoneuron innervates a unique groups of muscle fibres that together form the motor unit, which constitutes the final ensemble of all motor actions.

We have established methods to identify the action potentials from populations of individual motor units in humans in-vivo and showed that we can predict the kinetics and kinematics before the generation of observable muscular force output (Farina & Holobar, 2016; Del Vecchio et al., 2018, 2019, 2020; Casolo et al., 2019). These methods allow for the first time to predict joint kinetics in a robust way (Del Vecchio et al., 2018). The output of sequence of motoneuron discharge timings allows therefore to interface humans in a non-invasive way with individual spinal cells in a fully non-invasive way, with several applications in clinical settings and academia.


Casolo A, Farina D, Falla D, Bazzucchi I, Felici F & Del Vecchio A (2019). Strength Training Increases Conduction Velocity of High-Threshold Motor Units. Med Sci Sports Exerc.

Farina D & Holobar A (2016). Characterization of Human Motor Units from Surface EMG Decomposition. Proc IEEE 104, 353–373.

Del Vecchio A, Negro F, Holobar A, Casolo A, Folland JP, Felici F & Farina D (2019). You are as fast as your motor neurons: speed of recruitment and maximal discharge of motor neurons determine the maximal rate of force development in humans. J Physiol; DOI: 10.1113/JP277396.

Del Vecchio A, Sylos-Labini F, Mondì V, Paolillo P, Ivanenko Y, Lacquaniti F & Farina D (2020). Spinal motoneurons of the human newborn are highly synchronized during leg movements. Sci Adv 6, eabc3916.

Del Vecchio A, Úbeda A, Sartori M, Azorín JM, Felici F & Farina D (2018). Central nervous system modulates the neuromechanical delay in a broad range for the control of muscle force. J Appl Physiol 125, 1404–1410.