Neural mechanisms that contribute to cyclical modulation of the soleus H-reflex in walking in humans
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- Yang, J.F. & Whelan, P.J. Exp Brain Res (1993) 95: 547. doi:10.1007/BF00227148
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The amplitude of the Hoffmann reflex (H-reflex) of the human soleus muscle is modulated in a cyclical way during walking. This paper addresses two questions associated with the neural mechanisms that might generate this modulation: (1) Does the amplitude of the H-reflex simply rise and fall as a function of the background excitability of the soleus motoneuron pool? (2) Is the modulation of the H-reflex dependent on events associated with activation of the antagonist muscle? The amplitude of the soleus H-reflex was compared under three conditions: natural walking, walking without activating the tibialis anterior muscle, and walking with activation of the soleus muscle in the swing phase. Human subjects were able to perform these three tasks with minimal training. The results indicated that the soleus H-reflex remained very depressed in the swing phase of walking, even when a voluntary contraction of the soleus muscle was superimposed during this time. Moreover, the presence of tibialis anterior activity had a very minor effect on the amplitude of the soleus H-reflex during walking. It is concluded that modulation of the soleus H-reflex is not simply a reflection of the background excitability of the motoneuron pool, and the modulation is not dependent on activation of the antagonist muscle. Other more powerful mechanisms are acting to modulate the reflex, most likely presynaptic inhibition of the primary afferents.