Voluntary activation of ankle muscles is accompanied by subcortical facilitation of their antagonists

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Svend Sparre Geertsen, Abraham T. Zuur, Jens Bo Nielsen

Flexion and extension movements are organized reciprocally, so that extensor motoneurones in the spinal cord are inhibited when flexor muscles are active and vice versa. During and just prior to dorsiflexion of the ankle, soleus motoneurones are thus inhibited as evidenced by a depression of the soleus H-reflex. It is therefore surprising that soleus motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) have been found not to be reduced and even facilitated during a voluntary dorsiflexion. The objective of this study was to investigate if MEPs, evoked by TMS, show a similar facilitation prior to and at the onset of contraction of muscles that are antagonists to the muscle in which the MEP is evoked and if so, examine the origin of such a facilitatory motor programme. Eleven seated subjects reacted to an auditory cue by contracting either the tibialis anterior (TA) or soleus muscle of the left ankle. TMS was applied to the hotspot of TA and soleus muscles on separate days. Stimuli were delivered prior to and at the beginning of contraction. Soleus MEPs were significantly facilitated when TMS was applied 50 ms prior to onset of plantar flexion. Surprisingly, soleus MEPs were also facilitated (although to a lesser extent) at a similar time in relation to the onset of dorsiflexion. TA MEPs were facilitated 50 ms prior to onset of dorsiflexion and neither depressed nor facilitated prior to plantar flexion. No difference was found between the facilitation of the soleus MEP and motor evoked responses to cervicomedullary stimulation prior to dorsiflexion, suggesting that the increased soleus MEPs were not caused by changes at a cortical level. This was confirmed by the observation that short-latency facilitation of the soleus H-reflex by subthreshold TMS was increased prior to plantar flexion, but not prior to dorsiflexion. These findings suggest that voluntary contraction at the ankle is accompanied by preceding facilitation of antagonists by a subcortical motor programme. This may help to ensure that the direction of movement may be changed quickly and efficiently during functional motor tasks.
TidsskriftJournal of Physiology
Udgave nummer13
Sider (fra-til)2391-2402
Antal sider12
StatusUdgivet - 2010

Bibliografisk note

CURIS 2010 5200 092

ID: 21014920