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Locomotor activities as a way of inducing neuroplasticity: insights from conventional approaches and perspectives on eccentric exercises

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Corticospinal excitability, and particularly the balance between cortical inhibitory and excitatory processes (assessed in a muscle using single and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation), are affected by neurodegenerative pathologies or following a stroke. This review describes how locomotor exercises may counterbalance these neuroplastic alterations, either when performed under its conventional form (e.g., walking or cycling) or when comprising eccentric (i.e., active lengthening) muscle contractions. Non-fatiguing conventional locomotor exercise decreases intracortical inhibition and/or increases intracortical facilitation. These modifications notably seem to be a consequence of neurotrophic factors (e.g., brain-derived neurotrophic factor) resulting from the hemodynamic solicitation. Furthermore, it can be inferred from non-invasive brain and peripheral stimulation studies that repeated activation of neural networks can endogenously shape neuroplasticity. Such mechanisms could also occur following eccentric exercises (lengthening of the muscle), during which motor-related cortical potential (electroencephalography) is of greater magnitude and lasts longer than during concentric exercises (i.e., muscle shortening). As single-joint eccentric exercise decreased short- and long-interval intracortical inhibition and increased intracortical facilitation, locomotor eccentric exercise (e.g., downhill walking or eccentric cycling) may be even more potent by adding hemodynamic-related neuroplastic processes to endogenous processes. Besides, eccentric exercise is especially useful to develop relatively high force levels at low cardiorespiratory and perceived intensities, which can be a training goal alongside the induction of neuroplastic changes. Even though indirect evidence let us think that locomotor eccentric exercise could shape neuroplasticity in ways relevant to neurorehabilitation, its efficacy remains speculative. We provide future research directions on the neuroplastic effects and underlying mechanisms of locomotor exercise.

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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor




Gamma-aminobutyric acid


Insulin-growth factor 1


Transcranial magnetic stimulation


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This research work was supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR-15-CE19-0023) and the Région Bourgogne Franche-Comté (2018-BFCO-SR-P51).

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All the authors decided of the review boundaries. PC and YG drafted the manuscript. YG and RL drew the figures. PC finalized the manuscript. All the authors critically revised and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pierre Clos.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Michael Lindinger.

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Clos, P., Lepers, R. & Garnier, Y.M. Locomotor activities as a way of inducing neuroplasticity: insights from conventional approaches and perspectives on eccentric exercises. Eur J Appl Physiol 121, 697–706 (2021).

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