1. The organization of motor units in the single‐fibre‐thick transversus abdominis muscle of the garter snake has been studied. This small segmental muscle (60‐100 fibres) contains three distinct fibre types (faster twitch, F; slower twitch, S; and tonic, T) which are predominantly arranged in the repeating pattern F, T, S, T, F, T, etc. 2. Motor‐unit maps were obtained by activating an individual motor axon and identifying all of the muscle fibres innervated by that axon, using either the activity‐induced uptake of extracellular marker molecules to label presynaptic terminals of the stimulated axon, or systematic intracellular recording to identify muscle fibres activated by the axon. 3. Each muscle contained three types of motor units (F, T and S) that corresponded to the three types of fibres. All of the muscle fibres in a motor unit were of the same type. Each segmental muscle contained approximately the same number of motor units: one to two faster twitch, three to four slower twitch, and three tonic. 4. Each motor unit was dispersed widely throughout the muscle. Fibres within a motor unit were neither clustered nor anticlustered. This suggests that despite the fact that axons are constrained to innervate fibres of the appropriate type, the distribution of each motor unit does not generate the alternating pattern of fibre types. 5. In several experiments, all of the twitch motor units in one segmental component of the muscle were mapped. The projection of any one axon appeared random not only with respect to the muscle's fibre type pattern, but also with respect to the innervation supplied by other axons. 6. Twitch motor units were arranged according to a hierarchy of sizes. In each muscle examined, the largest motor unit was faster twitch; a single faster twitch motor axon usually innervated all of the faster twitch fibres in the muscle (fourteen to twenty‐four fibres). This was followed by three to four slower twitch motor units which varied in size from eight to ten fibres to very small motor units containing only four to five fibres. 7. Each tonic motor axon innervated an average of ninety‐three end‐plates per segmental muscle. The relatively large size of tonic motor units compared to twitch motor units is related to the ability of tonic muscle fibres to retain polyneuronal innervation into adulthood, both by providing five to seven end‐plate sites per fibre, and by allowing terminal boutons from different tonic motor axons to co‐innervate the same end‐plate.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
The Journal of Physiology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1987
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