Experimental brain research vol:172 issue:1 pages:67-76
There are two ways in which responses to successive unexpected stimuli are attenuated, namely through habituation and conditioning. For the latter, it suffices that the unexpected stimulus is preceded by another just perceivable stimulus. In spinal cord reflexes this is termed conditioning, while in brainstem reflexes this is usually referred to as prepulse inhibition. Cutaneous reflexes in Tibialis Anterior (TA) are particularly strong during gait and they are thought to involve a transcortical loop. Can these reflexes be suppressed by giving a brief pulse prior to a reflex-evoking pulse given to the same nerve? To examine this question, electromyographic signals were recorded in healthy humans during walking. Sural nerve stimulation (train of five pulses (1 ms duration)) at 200 Hz were applied at two times perception threshold during different phases of the step cycle. The preceding pulse (single pulse of 1 ms at same intensity) was applied to the same nerve 150 ms before the reflex-evoking pulse train. Conditioning stimulation with a single pulse lowered significantly the following reflex response in the ipsilateral TA but much less in other muscles such as biceps femoris. The preceding pulse did not disturb the phase-dependent modulation or the typical reflex reversal. The finding that TA is selectively involved indicates that the suppressing mechanism may involve the motor cortex, which is known to be involved in the control of TA. The conditioning pulse did not cause a reduction in background activity. Therefore, the suppression of the reflex responses points to a premotoneuronal source such as presynaptic inhibition.