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J Neurophysiol. 2005 Aug;94(2):1133-42. Epub 2005 Apr 13.

On the potential role of the corticospinal tract in the control and progressive adaptation of the soleus h-reflex during backward walking.

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CRULRG, Brain and Movement Laboratory, Department of Anatomy and Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada .


When untrained subjects walk backward on a treadmill, an unexpectedly large amplitude soleus H-reflex occurs in the midswing phase of backward walking. We hypothesized that activity in the corticospinal tract (CST) during midswing depolarizes the soleus alpha-motoneurons subliminally and thus brings them closer to threshold. To test this hypothesis, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied to the leg area of the motor cortex (MCx) during backward walking. Motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) were recorded from the soleus and tibialis anterior (TA) muscles in untrained subjects at different phases of the backward walking cycle. We reasoned that if soleus MEPs could be elicited in midswing, while the soleus is inactive, this would be strong evidence for increased postsynaptic excitability of the alpha-motoneurons. In the event, we found that in untrained subjects, despite the presence of an unexpectedly large H-reflex in midswing, no soleus MEPs were observed at that time. The soleus MEPs were in phase with the soleus electromyographic (EMG) activity during backward walking. Soleus MEPs increased more rapidly as a function of the EMG activity during voluntary activity than during backward walking. Furthermore, a conditioning stimulus to the motor cortex facilitated the soleus H-reflex at rest and during voluntary plantarflexion but not in the midswing phase of backward walking. With daily training at walking backward, the time at which the H-reflex began to increase was progressively delayed until it coincided with the onset of soleus EMG activity, and its amplitude was considerably reduced compared with its value on the first experimental day. By contrast, no changes were observed in the timing or amplitude of soleus MEPs with training. Taken together, these observations make it unlikely that the motor cortex via the CST is involved in control of the H-reflex during the backward step cycle of untrained subjects nor in its progressive adaptation with training. Our observations raise the possibility that the large amplitude of H-reflex in untrained subjects and its adaptation with training are mainly due to control of presynaptic inhibition of Ia-afferents by other descending tracts.

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