Rhythmic arm cycling induces short-term plasticity of the soleus H-reflex amplitude




Javanrohbakhsh, Fatemeh Bahar

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Plasticity in spinal networks has been proposed as a means to permit motor skill learning and recovery after central nervous system disorders. This plasticity is significantly driven by input from the periphery (Wolpaw & Carp, 2006). For instance, attenuation of soleus Hoffmann (H) reflex can last beyond the period of different types of conditioning via putative presynaptic inhibition (Brooke et al., 1997). Interestingly, rhythmic arm cycling can also attenuate soleus H-reflex via interlimb connections and presynaptic pathways (Frigon, Collins, & Zehr, 2004). However, it remains to be studied if this attenuation is maintained beyond the period of arm cycling. In this study, we hypothesized that excitability of H-reflex pathway would remain suppressed after cessation of arm cycling. Subjects were seated with their trunk and feet fixed at a neutral position. Using an arm ergometer, they cycled at 1Hz for 30min. H-reflexes were evoked via stimulation of the tibial nerve in the popliteal fossa at 5 minute intervals. These intervals began prior to the cycling and continued during cycling and up to 30 minutes iv after termination of cycling (n=12). Besides soleus muscle, electromyography was recorded from tibialis anterior, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris. Stimulation was set to evoke an M-wave which evoked an H-reflex on the ascending limb of the recruitment curve (size was 75% Hmax) obtained prior to cycling. The M-wave amplitude was maintained throughout all trials by monitoring and adjusting the level of stimulation intensity. All H-reflex and M-wave data were normalized to the averaged Mmax to reduce inter –subject variability. The main result was that the suppression of H-reflex amplitude persisted beyond the period of arm cycling. H-reflex amplitudes were significantly (p<0.05) smaller up to 20 min after arm cycling had stopped. This suggests that arm cycling can induce plastic adaptation in the soleus H-reflex pathway that persists well beyond the period of conditioning. Also, in an additional experiment (n=8), the prolonged effect of arm cycling combined with superficial radial (SR) nerve stimulation was investigated. Interestingly, this cutaneous nerve stimulation cancelled out the prolonged suppression of H-reflex amplitude induced by arm cycling. Since SR nerve stimulation facilitates soleus H-reflex via reductions in the level of Ia presynaptic inhibition (Zehr, Hoogenboom, Frigon, & Collins, 2004), persistence in presynaptic inhibitory pathways is suggested as an underlying neural mechanism. These results have relevance for optimizing rehabilitation techniques in the treatment of spasticity which is known to be related to the H-reflex size (Levin & Hui-Chan, 1993).



H-reflex, rhythmic movements, plasticity, arm cycling