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J Physiol. 1987 Nov;392:513-22.

Difference in the amplitude of the human soleus H reflex during walking and running.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


1. The Hoffman reflex, or H reflex, was strongly modulated in the human soleus muscle during both walking (4 km/h) and running (8 km/h). It was relatively low at the time of heel contact, increased progressively during the stance phase, and reached its maximum amplitude late in the stance phase. During ankle dorsiflexion the H reflex was absent. 2. During running the peak e.m.g. level of the soleus was on average 2.4 times higher than during walking but the maximum amplitude of the H reflex was never larger than during walking. In fact, the H reflex was on average significantly (P less than 0.05 for one-tailed t test) smaller during running than during walking. Furthermore, the slope of the least-squares line fitted to the relation between the H reflex amplitude and the background e.m.g. was always steeper for the walking data than for the running data. 3. The difference in the H reflex in the two tasks is evidence that the size of the H reflex is not simply a passive consequence of the alpha-motoneurone excitation level, as indicated by the e.m.g., but is also influenced by other central neural mechanisms. We suggest that presynaptic inhibition is the most likely mechanism accounting for the change in the slope. 4. The modulation of the reflexes during walking and running can be interpreted in terms of the idea of automatic gain compensation. The decreased gain during running may be appropriate to reduce saturation of motor output and potential instability of the stretch reflex feed-back loop.

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