Short-term effects of functional electrical stimulation on motor-evoked potentials in ankle flexor and extensor muscles
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Stimulating sensory afferents can increase corticospinal excitability. Intensive use of a particular part of the body can also induce reorganization of neural circuits (use-dependent plasticity) in the central nervous system (CNS). What happens in the CNS when the nerve stimulation is applied in concert with the use of particular muscle groups? The purpose of this study was to investigate short-term effects of electrical stimulation of the common peroneal (CP) nerve during walking on motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) in the ankle flexors and extensors in healthy subjects. Since the stimulation was applied during the swing phase of the step cycle when the ankle flexors are active, this is referred to as functional electrical stimulation (FES). The following questions were addressed: (1) can FES during walking increase corticospinal excitability more effectively than passively received repetitive nerve stimulation and (2) does walking itself improve the descending connection. FES was delivered using a foot drop stimulator that activates ankle dorsiflexors during the swing phase of the step cycle. MEPs in the tibialis anterior (TA) and soleus muscles were measured before, between, and after periods of walking with or without FES, using transcranial magnetic stimulation. After 30 min of walking with FES, the half-maximum peak-to-peak MEP (MEPh) in the TA increased in amplitude and this facilitatory effect lasted for at least 30 min. In contrast, walking had no effects on the TA MEPh without FES. The increase in the TA MEPh with FES (~40%) was similar to that with repetitive CP nerve stimulation at rest. The soleus MEPh was also increased after walking with FES, but not without FES, which differs from the previous observation with CP nerve stimulation at rest. With FES, the TA silent period at MEPh was unchanged or slightly decreased, while it increased after walking without FES. Increased cortical excitability accompanied by unchanged cortical inhibition (no changes in the silent period with FES) suggests that FES did not simply increase general excitability of the cortex, but had specific effects on particular cortical neurons.