Convergence of pattern generator outputs on a common mechanism of diaphragm motor unit recruitment

Carlos B. Mantilla, Yasin B. Seven, Gary C. Sieck

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

22 Scopus citations


Motor units are the final element of neuromotor control. In manner analogous to the organization of neuromotor control in other skeletal muscles, diaphragm motor units comprise phrenic motoneurons located in the cervical spinal cord that innervate the diaphragm muscle, the main inspiratory muscle in mammals. Diaphragm motor units play a primary role in sustaining ventilation but are also active in other nonventilatory behaviors, including coughing, sneezing, vomiting, defecation, and parturition. Diaphragm muscle fibers comprise all fiber types. Thus, diaphragm motor units display substantial differences in contractile and fatigue properties, but importantly, properties of the motoneuron and muscle fibers within a motor unit are matched. As in other skeletal muscles, diaphragm motor units are recruited in order such that motor units that display greater fatigue resistance are recruited earlier and more often than more fatigable motor units. The properties of the motor unit population are critical determinants of the function of a skeletal muscle across the range of possible motor tasks. Accordingly, fatigue-resistant motor units are sufficient to generate the forces necessary for ventilatory behaviors, whereas more fatigable units are only activated during expulsive behaviors important for airway clearance. Neuromotor control of diaphragm motor units may reflect selective inputs from distinct pattern generators distributed according to the motor unit properties necessary to accomplish these different motor tasks. In contrast, widely distributed inputs to phrenic motoneurons from various pattern generators (e.g., for breathing, coughing, or vocalization) would dictate recruitment order based on intrinsic electrophysiological properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages21
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Diaphragm muscle
  • Inspiration
  • Motor unit
  • Respiratory muscles
  • Ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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