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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Nov;108(9):2473-80. doi: 10.1152/jn.00477.2012. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

Activity-dependent changes in intrinsic excitability of human spinal motoneurones produced by natural activity.

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Department of Neurological, Neurosurgical and Behavioral Sciences, University of Siena, Siena, Italy.


The current study was designed to evaluate activity-dependent changes intrinsic to the spinal motoneurones (MNs) associated with sustained contractions. The excitability of spinal MNs (reflected by the antidromically evoked F-wave) innervating the abductor digiti minimi muscle (ADM) was measured in 12 healthy subjects following maximum voluntary contractions (MVCs) of ADM lasting 5 s, 15 s, 30 s, and 60 s. Upon cessation of the contractions, F-waves showed a depression, which increased in depth and duration with increasing duration of contraction. Following a 5-s contraction, there was a 20% decrease, which waned in 2 min, whereas a 60-s contraction produced a 40% decrease and waned in over 15 min. The changes in excitability of peripheral motor axons produced by the MVCs were measured by recording an ADM compound muscle action potential (CMAP) of ~50% of maximum to a constant ulnar nerve electrical stimulation. On cessation of the contractions, there was a prominent decrease in size of the CMAP: following a 5-s MVC, it produced a 10% decrease in the size of the test CMAP, which recovered in 2 min, whereas following a 60-s MVC, it produced a 30% decrease, which recovered in over 15 min. Statistical analysis (correntropy) showed a high-order mutual dependence between F-wave and CMAP, and both were significantly dependent on MVC duration. Because of the parallel excitability changes in peripheral axons and spinal MNs, our interpretation is that intrinsic excitability of the axon initial segment (i.e., where the action potential is generated) and peripheral axon segments changed in a similar, activity-dependent manner.

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