Greater fatigability and motor unit discharge variability in human type 2 diabetes

Jonathon W. Senefeld, Kevin G. Keenan, Kevin S. Ryan, Sarah E. D'Astice, Francesco Negro, Sandra K. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study determined the discharge characteristics of motor units from two lower limb muscles before and after fatiguing exercise in people with type 2 diabetes (T2D) with no symptoms of polyneuropathy and activity-matched controls. Seventeen people with T2D (65.0 ± 5.6 years; 8 women) and 17 controls (63.6 ± 4.5 years; 8 women) performed: (a) intermittent, isometric contractions at 50% maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) sustained to failure with the ankle dorsiflexors, and (b) a dynamic fatiguing task (30% MVIC load) for 6 min with the knee extensors. Before and after the fatiguing tasks, motor unit characteristics (including coefficient of variation (CV) of interspike intervals (ISI)) were quantified from high-density electromyography and muscle contractile properties were assessed via electrical stimulation. Fatigability was ~50% greater for people with T2D than controls for the dorsiflexors (time-to-failure: 7.3 ± 4.1 vs. 14.3 ± 9.1 min, p =.010) and knee extensors (power reduction: 56.7 ± 11.9 vs. 31.5 ± 25.5%, p <.001). The CV of ISI was greater for the T2D than control group for the tibialis anterior (23.1 ± 11.0 vs. 21.3 ± 10.7%, p <.001) and vastus lateralis (27.8 ± 20.2 vs. 24.5 ± 16.1%, p =.011), but these differences did not change after the fatiguing exercises. People with T2D had greater reductions in the electrically evoked twitch amplitude of the dorsiflexors (8.5 ± 5.1 vs. 4.0 ± 3.4%·min-1, p =.013) and knee extensors (49.1 ± 10.0 vs. 31.8 ± 15.9%, p =.004) than controls. Although motor unit activity was more variable in people with T2D than controls, the greater fatigability of the T2D group for lower limb muscles was due to mechanisms involving disruption of contractile function of the exercising muscles rather than motor unit behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14503
JournalPhysiological reports
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • contractile properties
  • diabetes mellitus
  • motor unit behavior
  • muscle fatigue
  • steadiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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