Most of the fibers in the descending motor tracts synapse with interneurons in the spinal cord; only about 10% of the descending fibers synapse directly with the lower motor neurons. It is likely that very rapid movements are produced by direct synapses with the lower motor neurons, whereas most other movements are produced indirectly via synapses with spinal in-terneurons, which in turn stimulate the motor neurons.
Upper motor neurons—neurons in the brain that contribute fibers to descending motor tracts—usually stimulate alpha and gamma motoneurons simultaneously. Such stimulation is known as coactivation. Stimulation of alpha motoneu-rons results in muscle contraction and shortening; stimulation of gamma motoneurons stimulates contraction of the intrafusal fibers, and thus "takes out the slack" that would otherwise be present in the spindles as the muscles shorten. In this way, the spindles remain under tension and provide information about the length of the muscle even while the muscle is shortening.
Under normal conditions, the activity of gamma motoneu-rons is maintained at the level needed to keep the muscle spindles under proper tension while the muscles are relaxed. Undue relaxation of the muscles is prevented by stretch and activation of the spindles, which in turn elicits a reflex contraction (described in the next section). This mechanism produces a normal resting muscle length and state of tension, or muscle tone.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.