Task-dependent neural control of regions within human genioglossus

Jade Yeung, Peter G. R. Burke, Fiona L. Knapman, Jessica Patti, Elizabeth C. Brown, Simon C. Gandevia, Danny J. Eckert, Jane E. Butler, Lynne E. Bilston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Anatomical and imaging evidence suggests neural control of oblique and horizontal compartments of the genioglossus differs. However, neurophysiological evidence for differential control remains elusive. This study aimed to determine whether there are differences in neural drive to the oblique and horizontal regions of the genioglossus during swallowing and tongue protrusion. Adult participants (n = 63; 48 M) were recruited from a sleep clinic; 41 had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA: 34 M, 8 F). Electromyographic (EMG) was recorded at rest (awake, supine) using four intramuscular fine-wire electrodes inserted percutaneously into the anterior oblique, posterior oblique, anterior horizontal, and posterior horizontal genioglossus. Epiglottic pressure and nasal airflow were also measured. During swallowing, two distinct EMG patterns were observed – a monophasic response (single EMG peak) and a biphasic response (2 bursts of EMG). Peak EMG and timing of the peak relative to epiglottic pressure were significantly different between patterns (linear mixed models, P < 0.001). Monophasic activation was more likely in the horizontal than oblique region during swallowing (OR = 6.83, CI = 3.46–13.53, P < 0.001). In contrast, during tongue protrusion, activation patterns and EMG magnitude were not different between regions. There were no systematic differences in EMG patterns during swallowing or tongue protrusion between OSA and non-OSA groups. These findings provide evidence for functional differences in the motoneuronal output to the oblique and horizontal compartments, enabling differential task-specific drive. Given this, it is important to identify the compartment from which EMG is acquired. We propose that the EMG patterns during swallowing may be used to identify the compartment where a recording electrode is located.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY During swallowing, we observed two distinct, stereotyped muscle activation patterns that define the horizontal (monophasic, maximal EMG) and oblique (biphasic, submaximal EMG) neuromuscular compartments of genioglossus. In contrast, volitional tongue protrusions produced uniform activation across compartments. This provides evidence for task-dependent, functionally discrete neuromuscular control of the oblique and horizontal compartments of genioglossus. The magnitude and temporal patterning of genioglossus EMG during swallowing may help guide electrode placement in tongue EMG studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-540
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Electromyography
  • Genioglossus
  • Swallowing
  • Tongue protrusion


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