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J Physiol. 2003 Jan 15;546(Pt 2):605-13.

Age and sex differences in human motor cortex input-output characteristics.

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Department of Physiology, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.


Stimulus-response curves for motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced in a hand muscle by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) were constructed for 42 subjects with the aim of identifying differences related to age and sex. There was no effect of age on the resting threshold to TMS, the maximal amplitude of the MEP that could be evoked (MEP(max)) or the maximal slope of the stimulus-response curve. However, higher stimulus intensities were required to achieve both MEP(max) and the maximal slope in the older subjects. The trial-to-trial variability of MEPs was greater in the older subjects, particularly at intensities near threshold. There was a significant interaction between age, threshold and trial-to-trial variability of MEP amplitude. Overall, MEP variability fell markedly as stimulus intensity increased above threshold but less rapidly in older than in younger subjects. Females tended to have larger MEP variability than males, but age and threshold were much stronger modulators than sex. These differences in input-output characteristics are likely to be due either to a decreased number of spinal motoneurones being activated synchronously in older subjects, or to the activation of the same number of motoneurones in a less synchronous manner, leading to phase cancellation in the surface electromyogram.

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