Changes in muscle afferents, motoneurons and motor drive during muscle fatigue

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Oct;83(2-3):106-15. doi: 10.1007/s004210000269.


Fatigue is a reduction of maximal muscle force or power that occurs with exercise. It is accompanied by changes at multiple levels in the motor pathway and also by changes in the discharge patterns of muscle afferents. Changes in afferent firing can lead to altered perceptions and can also act on the efferent pathway. Changes in the motor pathway include slowing of motor unit firing rates during sustained maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs). Muscle responses to stimulation at different levels of the motor pathway also change. Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex and stimulation of descending tracts in the spinal cord in human subjects show an increase in the response of the cortex and a decrease in response of the motoneuron pool during sustained MVCs. In addition, the silent period following magnetic stimulation is prolonged. During relaxation after fatiguing exercise, muscle responses to stimulation of the motor cortex are initially facilitated and are then depressed for many minutes, whereas responses to descending tract stimulation are initially depressed but recover over about 2 min. Although some of the loss of force of fatigue does occur through inadequate drive to the muscle, it is not clear which, if any, of the changes described in the cortex or the motoneurons are responsible for loss of maximal voluntary force and thus contribute to fatigue. Changes may be associated with muscle fatigue without causing it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*