Focal depression of cortical excitability induced by fatiguing muscle contraction: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study

Abstract

Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial electrical stimulation (TES) of the motor cortex were recorded in separate sessions to assess changes in motor cortex excitability after a fatiguing isometric maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the right ankle dorsal flexor muscles. Five healthy male subjects, aged 37.4±4.2 years (mean±SE), were seated in a chair equipped with a load cell to measure dorsiflexion force. TMS or TES was delivered over the scalp vertex before and after a fatiguing MVC, which was maintained until force decreased by 50%. MEPs were recorded by surface electrodes placed over quadriceps, hamstrings, tibialis anterior (TA), and soleus muscles bilaterally. M-waves were elicited from the exercised TA by supramaximal electrical stimulation of the peroneal nerve. H-reflex and MVC recovery after fatiguing, sustained MVC were also studied independently in additional sessions. TMS-induced MEPs were significantly reduced for 20 min following MVC, but only in the exercised TA muscle. Comparing TMS and TES mean MEP amplitudes, we found that, over the first 5 min following the fatiguing MVC, they were decreased by about 55% for each. M-wave responses were unchanged. H-reflex amplitude and MVC force recovered within the 1st min following the fatiguing MVC. When neuromuscular fatigue was induced by tetanic motor point stimulation of the TA, TMS-induced MEP amplitudes remained unchanged. These findings suggest that the observed decrease in MEP amplitude represents a focal reduction of cortical excitability following a fatiguing motor task and may be caused by intracortical and/or subcortical inhibitory mechanisms.

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