Physiological tremor increases when skeletal muscle is shortened: implications for fusimotor control.

The involuntary force fluctuations associated with physiological (as distinct from pathological) tremor are an unavoidable component of human motor control. While the origins of physiological tremor are known to depend on muscle afferentation, it is possible that the mechanical properties of muscle-tendon systems also affect its generation, amplification and maintenance.

In this paper the authors investigated the dependence of physiological tremor on muscle length in healthy individuals. They measured physiological tremor during tonic, isometric plantarflexion torque at 30% of maximum at three ankle angles. The amplitude of physiological tremor increased as calf muscles shortened in contrast to the stretch reflex whose amplitude decreases as muscle shortens. They used a published closed-loop simulation model of afferented muscle to explore the mechanisms responsible for this behaviour.

The team demonstrate that changing muscle lengths does not suffice to explain our experimental findings. Rather, the model consistently required the modulation of γ-static fusimotor drive to produce increases in physiological tremor with muscle shortening-while successfully replicating the concomitant reduction in stretch reflex amplitude. This need to control γ-static fusimotor drive explicitly as a function of muscle length has important implications. First, it permits the amplitudes of physiological tremor and stretch reflex to be decoupled. Second, it postulates neuromechanical interactions that require length-dependent γ drive modulation to be independent from α drive to the parent muscle. Lastly, it suggests that physiological tremor can be used as a simple, non-invasive measure of the afferent mechanisms underlying healthy motor function, and their disruption in neurological conditions.