Fatigue-related firing of muscle nociceptors reduces voluntary activation of ipsilateral but not contralateral lower limb muscles

David S Kennedy, Siobhan C Fitzpatrick, Simon C Gandevia, Janet L Taylor
Journal of Applied Physiology 2015 February 15, 118 (4): 408-18
During fatiguing upper limb exercise, maintained firing of group III/IV muscle afferents can limit voluntary drive to muscles within the same limb. It is not known if this effect occurs in the lower limb. We investigated the effects of group III/IV muscle afferent firing from fatigued ipsilateral and contralateral extensor muscles and ipsilateral flexor muscles of the knee on voluntary activation of the knee extensors. In three experiments, we examined voluntary activation of the knee extensors by measuring changes in superimposed twitches evoked by femoral nerve stimulation. Subjects attended on 2 days for each experiment. On one day a sphygmomanometer cuff occluded blood flow of the fatigued muscles to maintain firing of group III/IV muscle afferents. After a 2-min extensor contraction (experiment 1; n = 9), mean voluntary activation was lower with than without maintained ischemia (47 ± 19% vs. 87 ± 8%, respectively; P < 0.001). After a 2-min knee flexor maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) (experiment 2; n = 8), mean voluntary activation was also lower with than without ischemia (59 ± 21% vs. 79 ± 9%; P < 0.01). After the contralateral (left) MVC (experiment 3; n = 8), mean voluntary activation of the right leg was similar with or without ischemia (92 ± 6% vs. 93 ± 4%; P = 0.65). After fatiguing exercise, activity in group III/IV muscle afferents reduces voluntary activation of the fatigued muscle and nonfatigued antagonist muscles in the same leg. However, group III/IV muscle afferents from the fatigued left leg had no effect on the unfatigued right leg. This suggests that any "crossover" of central fatigue in the lower limbs is not mediated by group III/IV muscle afferents.

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