21+ Pros and Cons of Single Unit Recording (Explained)

The enteric nervous system is defined as a fixed subdivision of the peripheral, autonomic nervous system that rests in the gastrointestinal tract. The small intestine itself is said to have an estimated number of 733,000 neurons in the mouse, 88 million neurons in the sheep and 3.7 million neurons in the guinea-pig.

The human enteric nervous system is said to contain between 200 and 600 million neurons. This is as many as the number in the spinal cord alone. A single unit recording is defined as the use of an electrode to record the electrophysiological activity from a single neuron.


1. Additional Measurement Can Be Recorded. 

1. Possibility of Heart Dysfunction

2. Sensitive Towards Cardiac Intervals

2. Single-Unit Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity Analysis in Humans is Technically Demanding

3. Recording Continues During Physiological Stress.
 3. Insufficient Information Available

4. Accurate Information on Efferent Sympathetic Firing:

4. Abnormal Nerve Activity

5. Records Actual Sympathetic Neural Firing
 5.  Obstructive Sleep Apnea

6. Method of Measuring Electro-Physiological Responses
 6. Hypertension

7. Change in Voltage With Respect To Time
 7. Disease Progression
 8. Provides Scope of Extensive Research in Cognitive Science
 9. Information From Single Unit Recording Can Be Used For BMI (Brain Machine Interface)


  • Additional Measurements:

Additional measurements can be obtained with regard to the mean firing frequency, the firing probability (the percentage of cardiac intervals in which a unit fires), and the percentage of spikes a unit generates per cardiac interval. Single Unit Recording provides a more accurate description of the actuality of the nervous system.

  • Sensitive to Cardiac Intervals:

Single-unit recording tends to fire only once per cardiac interval even under conditions associated with elevated sympathetic nerve activity such as HF, suggesting that single-unit recording has the capacity to increase multiple spike firing within one cardiac interval in a state of intense sympathoexcitation. This ensures the patient can be read without misconceptions.

  • Physiological Stress:

In a study on the Valsalva maneuver, it was demonstrated that single-unit recording can also be recorded during periods of physiological stress [e.g., handgrip (HG) exercise] and that reflex sympathoexcitation could be attributed to changes in the frequency of single-unit spike firing within each multiunit sympathetic burst in healthy subjects.

  • Accurate Information on Efferent Sympathetic Firing:

The results of single unit recording suggest that an instantaneous increase in the frequency of single-unit firing during one cardiac interval provides additional and accurate information on efferent sympathetic firing, which cannot be determined by multiunit recording analysis. This further proves that the single unit recording method used ensures the most accurate result.

  • Records Actual Sympathetic Neural Firing:

Single-unit Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity, recording analysis is useful for determining actual sympathetic neural firing within one cardiac interval.  At rest, despite the elevated level of multiunit MSNA, the incidence of multiple firing of single-unit sympathetic spikes was not different, but the firing frequency of single-unit MSNA was significantly increased compared to healthy subjects.

  • Method of Measuring Electro-Physiological Responses:

Single-unit recordings provide a method of measuring the electro-physiological responses of single neurons using a microelectrode system. When a neuron generates an action potential, the signal propagates down the neuron as a current which flows in and out of the cell through excitable membrane regions in the soma and axon. 

  • Change in Voltage With Respect To Time:

A microelectrode is inserted into the brain, where it can record the rate of change in voltage with respect to time. Single unit recording produces astonishing results when tested on dead objects. This was seen in the first documented experiment on a frog in 1762. 

  • Provides Scope of Extensive Research in Cognitive Science:

Single-unit recordings are widely used in cognitive science, where it permits the analysis of human cognition and cortical mapping. This helps students and researchers of cognitive science in analyzing the workings of the human brain without having to compromise on methods of recording.

  • Information From Single Unit Recording Can Be Used For BMI: 

The information that is extracted from single unit recordings, instead of multi unit recordings ensures that the results can then be applied to brain machine interface (BMI) technologies for brain control of external devices.  This also helps the development of technology in our society.


  • Possibility of Heart Dysfunction:

multiple spike firing of single-unit MSNA is considered to cause the progression of heart dysfunction by instantaneous norepinephrine release to the heart. This may result in the death of aged patients and paralysis for younger patients. This is one reason this recording method is unreliable.

  • Single-Unit Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity Analysis in Humans is Technically Demanding:

The setting-up of single unit recording is in itself a task that requires specialized skill and professionals with expertise. The second part is more difficult because it requires doctors to be patient with the process and avoid the slightest mistakes.

  • Insufficient Information:

Several studies suggest that single unit recording can be better for the patient during times of heart failure and physiological stress, but little information is available regarding the responses of single-unit MSNA to physiological stress and disease. This is because studies have shown mixed results about the success and failures of single unit recording.

  • Abnormal Nerve Activity:

Studies have shown that single unit recording can lead to abnormal nerve activity in the patient due to quick shots of norepinephrine. As mentioned above, with the possibility of heart dysfunction, it is also the case that this procedure may lead to abnormal and unrecognized nerve activity.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the many reason single unit recording is avoided on patients who suffer from this disease. The rate of heart failure due to OSA may also result in the single unit recording being inaccurate and risks the life of the ill patient.

  • Hypertension:

The single unit shots of single unit recording also risks the possibility of hypertension. The reason the single unit recording process does not have a valid practice around the world is because there have not been enough studies to suggest that the single unit recording can prevent hypertension during heart failure.

  • Disease Progression:

Single unit recording can also lead to the problem of disease progression due to the nature of the procedure. This makes the case of disease progression quite rapid in nature and may result to the death of the patient.  The further study of the procedure is needed before it can be tested on patients.

The purpose of single unit recordings is to ensure that the reading of the heart failures is better and more accurate when the patient is in physiological stress. The specific nature of the heart failure or other neurological disease is also something that must be kept in mind when practicing this procedure.

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