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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Voluntary activation failure is detectable in some myositis patients with persisting quadriceps femoris weakness: an observational study

Catherine B Molloy*, Ahmed O Al-Omar, Kathryn T Edge and Robert G Cooper

Author Affiliations

University of Manchester Rheumatic Disease Centre, Hope Hospital, Eccles Old Road, Salford M6 8HD, UK

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:R67  doi:10.1186/ar1935

Published: 10 April 2006


This cross-sectional, observational study was undertaken to examine whether voluntary activation failure could contribute to the persisting weakness observed in some patients with treated idiopathic inflammatory myositis. In 20 patients with myositis of more than six months' duration (5 males, 15 females; mean [± 1 SD] age 53 [11] years) and 102 normal subjects (44 males, 58 females; mean age 32 [8] years), isometric maximum voluntary contractions (MVCs) of the dominant quadriceps femoris (QF) were quantified. Absolute MVC results of normal subjects and patients were then normalised with respect to lean body mass (force per units of lean body mass), giving a result in Newtons per kilogram. Based on mass-normalised force data of normal subjects, patients were arbitrarily stratified into "weak" and "not weak" subgroups. During further MVC attempts, the "twitch interpolation" technique was used to assess whether the QF voluntary activation of patients was complete. This technique relies on the fact that, because muscle activation is incomplete during submaximal voluntary contractions, electrical stimulation of the muscle can induce force increments superimposed on the submaximal voluntary force being generated. No between-gender differences were seen in the mass-normalised MVC results of healthy subjects, so the gender-combined results of 6.6 (1.5) N/kg were used for patient stratification. No between-gender difference was found for mass-normalised MVCs in patients: males 5.4 (3.2) and females 3.0 (1.7) N/kg (p > 0.05). Mass-normalised MVCs of male patients were as great as those of normal subjects (p > 0.05), but mass-normalised MVCs of female patients were significantly smaller than those of the normal subjects (p < 0.001). Only one of the six "not weak" patients exhibited interpolated twitches during electrical stimulation, but six of the 14 "weak" patients did, the biggest twitches being seen in the weakest patient. That interpolated twitches can be induced in some myositis patients with ongoing QF weakness during supposed MVCs clearly suggests that voluntary activation failure does contribute to QF weakness in those patients.