Motor unit firing rates and voluntary activation of muscle decline during sustained isometric contractions. After exercise, the responses to motor cortical and corticospinal stimulation are reduced. These changes may reflect motoneuronal inhibition mediated by group III and IV muscle afferents. To determine whether the post-contraction depression of the responses to corticospinal or motor cortical stimulation could be maintained by continued firing of ischaemically sensitive group III and IV muscle afferents, we examined responses in muscles that were held ischaemic after exercise. Following a sustained maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the elbow flexors lasting 2 min, the response to stimulation of the corticospinal tract was reduced but the usual recovery (over approximately 2 min) was not delayed when the muscles were maintained ischaemic for 2 min after the contraction. Following a sustained MVC, the time course of the reduction in the response to motor cortical stimulation (a gradual decrease over approximately 2 min, maintained for > 10 min) was also not altered if the muscle was held ischaemic. Mean arterial blood pressure rose to 155 +/- 12 mmHg during the 2 min MVC, declined to 125 +/- 9 mmHg immediately after it, but remained at this level without returning to pre-exercise levels (102 +/- 10 mmHg) until circulation to the arm was restored. This confirms that the sustained MVC activated a reflex dependent on group III and IV muscle afferents. This study shows that ischaemically sensitive group III and IV muscle afferents do not mediate depression of responses to motor cortical or corticospinal stimulation after fatiguing exercise. It also suggests that firing of such afferents does not directly inhibit motoneurones or motor cortical output cells.