Reduced corticospinal responses in older compared with younger adults during submaximal isometric, shortening, and lengthening contractions

Jakob Škarabot, Paul Ansdell, Callum Brownstein, Kirsty Hicks, Glyn Howatson, Stuart Goodall, Rade Durbaba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess differences in motor performance, as well as corticospinal and spinal responses to transcranial magnetic and percutaneous nerve stimulation, respectively, during submaximal isometric, shortening, and lengthening contractions between younger and older adults. Fifteen younger [26 yr (SD 4); 7 women, 8 men] and 14 older [64 yr (SD 3); 5 women, 9 men] adults performed isometric and shortening and lengthening dorsiflexion on an isokinetic dynamometer (5°/s) at 25% and 50% of contraction type-specific maximums. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) and H reflexes were recorded at anatomical zero. Maximal dorsiflexor torque was greater during lengthening compared with shortening and isometric contractions (P 0.001) but was not age dependent (P 0.158). However, torque variability was greater in older compared with young adults (P 0.001). Background electromyographic (EMG) activity was greater in older compared with younger adults (P 0.005) and was contraction type dependent (P 0.001). As evoked responses are influenced by both the maximal level of excitation and background EMG activity, the responses were additionally normalized {[MEP/maximum M wave (Mmax)]/root-mean-square EMG activity (RMS) and [H reflex (H)/Mmax]/RMS}. (MEP/Mmax)/RMS and (H/Mmax)/RMS were similar across contraction types but were greater in young compared with older adults (P 0.001). Peripheral motor conduction times were prolonged in older adults (P 0.003), whereas peripheral sensory conduction times and central motor conduction times were not age dependent (P 0.356). These data suggest that age-related changes throughout the central nervous system serve to accommodate contraction type-specific motor control. Moreover, a reduction in corticospinal responses and increased torque variability seem to occur without a significant reduction in maximal torque-producing capacity during older age. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This is the first study to have explored corticospinal and spinal responses with aging during submaximal contractions of different types (isometric, shortening, and lengthening) in lower limb musculature. It is demonstrated that despite preserved maximal torque production capacity corticospinal responses are reduced in older compared with younger adults across contraction types along with increased torque variability during dynamic contractions. This suggests that the age-related corticospinal changes serve to accommodate contraction type-specific motor control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1015-1031
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Volume126
Issue number4
Early online date7 Feb 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2019

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