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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2004 Apr;82(4):238-48.

Spinal excitation and inhibition decrease as humans age.

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  • 1Centre for Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


Although changes in the soleus H-reflex (an electrical analog of the tendon jerk) with age have been examined in a number of studies, some controversy remains. Also, the effect of age on inhibitory reflexes has received little attention. The purpose of this paper was to examine some excitatory and inhibitory reflexes systematically in healthy human subjects having a wide range of ages. We confirmed that both the maximum H-reflex (Hmax) and the maximum M-wave (Mmax) (from direct stimulation of motor axons) decrease gradually with age. The decrease in Hmax was larger so the Hmax/Mmax ratio decreased dramatically with age. Interestingly, the modulation of the H-reflex during walking was essentially the same at all ages, suggesting that the pathways that modulate the H-reflex amplitude during walking are relatively well preserved during the aging process. We showed for the first time that the short-latency, reciprocal inhibitory pathways from the common peroneal nerve to soleus muscle and from the tibial nerve to the tibialis anterior muscle also decreased with age, when measured as a depression of ongoing voluntary activity. These results suggest that there may be a general decrease in excitability of spinal pathways with age. Thus, the use of age-matched controls is particularly important in assessing abnormalities resulting from disorders that occur primarily in the elderly.

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