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Motor unit number estimation using reversible jump Markov chain Monte Carlo methods

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We present an application of reversible jump Markov chain Monte Carlo sampling from the field of neurophysiology where we seek to estimate the number of motor units within a single muscle. Such an estimate is needed for monitoring the progression of neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Our data consist of action potentials that were recorded from the surface of a muscle in response to stimuli of different intensities applied to the nerve supplying the muscle. During the gradual increase in intensity of the stimulus from the threshold to supramaximal, all motor units are progressively excited. However, at any given submaximal intensity of stimulus, the number of units that are excited is variable, because of random fluctuations in axonal excitability. Furthermore, the individual motor unit action potentials exhibit variability. To account for these biological properties, Ridall and co-workers developed a model of motor unit activation that is capable of describing the response where the number of motor units, N, is fixed. The purpose of this paper is to extend that model so that the possible number of motor units, N, is a stochastic variable. We illustrate the elements of our model, show that the results are reproducible and show that our model can measure the decline in motor unit numbers during the course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Our method holds promise of being useful in the study of neurogenic diseases.

Keywords: Alternation; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Markov chain Monte Carlo methods; Motor neurone disease; Motor unit number estimation; Reversible jump

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia 2: University of Glasgow, UK 3: University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: 2007-05-01

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