1. Subdivided portions of the cut ventral root innervation of the soleus muscle were electrically stimulated in 14 anesthetized cats. The stimulus trains imposed on these nerves simulated the recruitment and rate-modulation patterns of single motor units recorded during stretch-reflex responses in decerebrate preparations. Each activation pattern was evaluated for its ability to prevent muscle yield. 2. Three basic stimulus patterns, recruitment, step increases in stimulus rate, and doublets were imposed during the course of ramp stretches applied over a wide range of velocities. The effect of each stimulus pattern on muscle force was compared to the force output recorded without stretch-related recruitment or rate modulation. 3. Motor-unit recruitment was found to be most effective in preventing yield during muscle stretch. Newly recruited motor units showed no evidence of yielding for some 250 ms following activation, at which time muscle stiffness declined slightly. This time-dependent resistance to yield was observed regardless of whether the onset of the neural stimulus closely preceded or followed stretch onset. 4. Step increases in stimulus rate arising shortly after stretch onset did not prevent the occurrence of yield at most stretch velocities, but did augment muscle stiffness later in the stretch. Doublets in the stimulus train were found to augment muscle stiffness only when they occurred in newly recruited motor units. 5. These results suggest that at low or moderate initial forces, the prevention of yield in lengthening, reflexively intact muscle results primarily from rapid motor-unit recruitment. To a lesser extent, the springlike character of the stretch-reflex response also derives from step increases in firing rate of motor units active before stretch onset and doublets in units recruited during the course of stretch. Smooth rate increases appear to augment muscle force later in the course of the reflex response.
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