Changes in voluntary activation assessed by transcranial magnetic stimulation during prolonged cycling exercise

Marc Jubeau, Thomas Rupp, Stephane Perrey, John Temesi, Bernard Wuyam, Patrick Levy, Samuel Verges, Guillaume Y Millet
PloS One 2014, 9 (2): e89157
Maximal central motor drive is known to decrease during prolonged exercise although it remains to be determined whether a supraspinal deficit exists, and if so, when it appears. The purpose of this study was to evaluate corticospinal excitability and muscle voluntary activation before, during and after a 4-h cycling exercise. Ten healthy subjects performed three 80-min bouts on an ergocycle at 45% of their maximal aerobic power. Before exercise and immediately after each bout, neuromuscular function was evaluated in the quadriceps femoris muscles under isometric conditions. Transcranial magnetic stimulation was used to assess voluntary activation at the cortical level (VATMS), corticospinal excitability via motor-evoked potential (MEP) and intracortical inhibition by cortical silent period (CSP). Electrical stimulation of the femoral nerve was used to measure voluntary activation at the peripheral level (VAFNES) and muscle contractile properties. Maximal voluntary force was significantly reduced after the first bout (13 ± 9%, P<0.01) and was further decreased (25 ± 11%, P<0.001) at the end of exercise. CSP remained unchanged throughout the protocol. Rectus femoris and vastus lateralis but not vastus medialis MEP normalized to maximal M-wave amplitude significantly increased during cycling. Finally, significant decreases in both VATMS and VAFNES (∼ 8%, P<0.05 and ∼ 14%, P<0.001 post-exercise, respectively) were observed. In conclusion, reductions in VAFNES after a prolonged cycling exercise are partly explained by a deficit at the cortical level accompanied by increased corticospinal excitability and unchanged intracortical inhibition. When comparing the present results with the literature, this study highlights that changes at the cortical and/or motoneuronal levels depend not only on the type of exercise (single-joint vs. whole-body) but also on exercise intensity and/or duration.

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