The present study investigated the relative contribution of the cortical and spinal mechanisms for post-exercise excitability changes in human motoneurons. Seven healthy right-handed adults with no known neuromuscular disabilities performed an isometric voluntary wrist flexion at submaximum continuous exertion. After the subjects continued muscle contraction until volitional fatigue, the H-reflexes induced by an electric stimulation and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) from a flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle were recorded 7 times every 20 s. The H-reflex was used to assess excitability changes at the spinal level, and the MEP was used to study excitability changes at the cortical level. H-reflexes showed a depression (30% of control value) soon after the cessation of wrist flexion and recovered with time thereafter. On the other hand, an early (short latency) MEP showed facilitation immediately after the cessation of wrist flexion (50% of control value) and thereafter decreased. A possible mechanism for the contradictory results of the 2 tests, in spite of focusing on the same motoneuron pool, might be the different test potential sizes between them. In addition, a late (long latency) MEP response appeared with increasing exercise. With regard to the occurrence of late MEP response, a central mechanism may be proposed to explain the origin—that is, neural pathways with a high threshold that do not participate under normal circumstances might respond to an emergency level of muscle exercise, probably reflecting central effects of fatigue.
T. Kato and T. Kasai are with the Division of Sports & Health Sciences in the Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation at Hiroshima University, 1-5-1 Kagamiyama, Higashihiroshima, Japan. Y. Takeda and T. Tsuji are with the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in the Gradate School of Engineering at Hiroshima University, 1-4-1 Kagamiyama, Higashihiroshima, Japan.