Dissociation between behavior and motor cortical excitability before and during ballistic wrist flexion and extension in young and old adults

PLoS One. 2017 Oct 26;12(10):e0186585. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186585. eCollection 2017.


Purpose: Aging is associated with slow reactive movement generation and poor termination.

Objective: We examined the hypothesis that the build-up of excitability in the primary motor cortex in the agonist muscle to generate ballistic wrist flexion and extension and in the antagonist to stop the movement, is lower and slower in old compared with young adults.

Methods: We measured the size of the motor potentials evoked (MEP) produced by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), background integrated EMG (iEMG), and the MEP:iEMG ratio in healthy young (23 y, n = 14) and old adults' (73 y, n = 14) wrist flexors and extensors as they rapidly flexed or extended the wrist in response to an auditory cue. TMS was delivered at 80% of resting motor threshold randomly in 20 ms increments between 130 and 430 ms after the tone.

Results: Even though old compared to young adults executed the two wrist movements with ~23% longer movement duration and ~15% longer reaction time (both p < 0.05), the rise in MEP:iEMG ratio before the main similar in the two age groups.

Conclusion: These data suggest that an adjustment of current models might be needed to better understand how and if age affects the build-up excitability accompanying movement generation and termination.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Range of Motion, Articular*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Wrist / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

Supported in part by start-up funds from the University Medical Center Groningen, grant number 653013. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.