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Neuromuscular recruitment strategies of the vastus lateralis according to sex

Guo, Yuxiao; Jones, Eleanor J.; Inns, Thomas B.; Ely, Isabel A.; Stashuk, Daniel W.; Wilkinson, Daniel J.; Smith, Kenneth; Piasecki, Jessica; Phillips, Bethan E.; Atherton, Philip J.; Piasecki, Mathew


Yuxiao Guo

Eleanor J. Jones

Thomas B. Inns

Isabel A. Ely

Daniel W. Stashuk

Professor of Metabolic Mass Spectrometry

Jessica Piasecki

Professor of Translational Physiology

Professor of Clinical, metabolic & Molecular Physiology


Aim: Despite males typically exhibiting greater muscle strength and fatigability than females, it remains unclear if there are sex-based differences in neuromuscular recruitment strategies e.g. recruitment and modulation of motor unit firing rate (MU FR) at normalized forces and during progressive increases in force. Methods: The study includes 29 healthy male and 31 healthy female participants (18-35years). Intramuscular electromyography (iEMG) was used to record individual motor unit potentials (MUPs) and near-fibre MUPs from the vastus lateralis (VL) during 10% and 25% maximum isometric voluntary contractions (MVC), and spike-triggered averaging was used to obtain motor unit number estimates (MUNE) of the VL. Results: Males exhibited greater muscle strength (P<.001) and size (P<.001) than females, with no difference in force steadiness at 10% or 25% MVC. Females had 8.4% and 6.5% higher FR at 10% and 25% MVC, respectively (both P<.03), while the MUP area was 33% smaller in females at 10% MVC (P<.02) and 26% smaller at 25% MVC (P=.062). However, both sexes showed similar increases in MU size and FR when moving from low- to mid-level contractions. There were no sex differences in any near-fibre MUP parameters or in MUNE. Conclusion: In the vastus lateralis, females produce muscle force via different neuromuscular recruitment strategies to males which is characterized by smaller MUs discharging at higher rates. However, similar strategies are employed to increase force production from low- to mid-level contractions. These findings of similar proportional increases between sexes support the use of mixed sex cohorts in studies of this nature.


Guo, Y., Jones, E. J., Inns, T. B., Ely, I. A., Stashuk, D. W., Wilkinson, D. J., …Piasecki, M. (2022). Neuromuscular recruitment strategies of the vastus lateralis according to sex. Acta Physiologica, 235(2), Article e13803.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 16, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 19, 2022
Publication Date Jan 1, 2022
Deposit Date Mar 2, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 4, 2022
Journal Acta Physiologica
Print ISSN 1748-1708
Electronic ISSN 1748-1716
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 235
Issue 2
Article Number e13803
Keywords Physiology
Public URL
Publisher URL


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