The Effects of Sex and Motoneuron Pool on Central Fatigue

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It is uncertain if sex influences central fatigue because the reduction in voluntary activation (VA) has been reported as not different between the sexes for elbow flexors (EF) but greater in males compared with females for knee extensors. This disparity could result from the facilitatory and inhibitory effects of group III/IV muscle afferents on flexor versus extensor motoneurons, respectively. The purpose of this study was to examine central fatigue and motoneuron responsiveness of EF and elbow extensors (EE) in males and females.


Twenty-two participants (11 females) performed a 2-min isometric maximal voluntary contraction of EF and EE (on separate days) followed by 2 min of recovery. EMG potentials were recorded from biceps or triceps brachii in response to the stimulation of the brachial plexus (Mmax), corticospinal tract (cervicomedullary motor evoked potential [CMEP]), and motor cortex (motor evoked potential [MEP]). Superimposed and resting doublets (for determining VA) were evoked via muscle belly stimulation of biceps or triceps brachii. Only CMEP and superimposed doublets were recorded during fatigue.


There was no effect of sex on CMEP area for either muscle group during fatigue or recovery. During the 2 min after EE fatigue, mean normalized CMEP and MEP area were ∼85% and ∼141% of control, indicating inhibition and facilitation of the motoneurons and motor cortex, respectively. VA during recovery was significantly reduced in males but not females for the EF, and unchanged in either sex for the EE.


The findings do not support the concept that equivocal findings regarding sex differences in central fatigue are related to augmented effects of group III/IV afferent feedback in males compared with females.

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