Reductions in motoneuron excitability during sustained isometric contractions are dependent on stimulus and contraction intensity

Callum G. Brownstein*, Loïc Espeit, Nicolas Royer, Paul Ansdell, Jakob Škarabot, Robin Souron, Thomas Lapole, Guillaume Y. Millet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Cervicomedullary stimulation provides a means of assessing motoneuron excitability. Previous studies demonstrated that during low-intensity sustained contractions, small cervicomedullary evoked potentials (CMEPs) conditioned using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS-CMEPs) are reduced, whereas large TMS-CMEPs are less affected. As small TMS-CMEPs recruit motoneurons most active during low-intensity contractions whereas large TMS-CMEPs recruit a high proportion of motoneurons inactive during the task, these results suggest that reductions in motoneuron excitability could be dependent on repetitive activation. To further test this hypothesis, this study assessed changes in small and large TMS-CMEPs across low- and high-intensity contractions. Twelve participants performed a sustained isometric contraction of the elbow flexor for 4.5 min at the electromyography (EMG) level associated with 20% maximal voluntary contraction force (MVC; low intensity) and 70% MVC (high intensity). Small and large TMS-CMEPs with amplitudes of ∼15% and ∼50% Mmax at baseline, respectively, were delivered every minute throughout the tasks. Recovery measures were taken at 1-, 2.5- and 4-min postexercise. During the low-intensity trial, small TMS-CMEPs were reduced at 2–4 min (P ≤ 0.049) by up to −10% Mmax, whereas large TMS-CMEPs remained unchanged (P ≥ 0.16). During the high-intensity trial, small and large TMS-CMEPs were reduced at all time points (P < 0.01) by up to −14% and −33% Mmax, respectively, and remained below baseline during all recovery measures (P ≤ 0.02). TMS-CMEPs were unchanged relative to baseline during recovery following the low-intensity trial (P ≥ 0.24). These results provide novel insight into motoneuron excitability during and following sustained contractions at different intensities and suggest that contraction-induced reductions in motoneuron excitability depend on repetitive activation.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study measured motoneuron excitability using cervicomedullary evoked potentials conditioned using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS-CMEPs) of both small and large amplitudes during sustained low- and high-intensity contractions of the elbow flexors. During the low-intensity task, only the small TMS-CMEP was reduced. During the high-intensity task, both small and large TMS-CMEPs were substantially reduced. These results indicate that repetitively active motoneurons are specifically reduced in excitability compared with less active motoneurons in the same pool.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1636-1646
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Volume125
Issue number5
Early online date31 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

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