Activity-dependent hyperpolarization of human motor axons produced by natural activity

J Physiol. 1998 Mar 15;507 ( Pt 3)(Pt 3):919-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.1998.919bs.x.


1. The changes in excitability of motor axons produced by natural activity were measured in six healthy subjects using voluntary contractions lasting 15 s, 30 s and 1 min, by recording the changes in stimulus current required to produce a compound muscle action potential of approximately 60 % of maximum. 2. On cessation of the contractions there was a prominent increase in the current required to produce the target potential, accompanied by an increase in rheobase, a decrease in strength-duration time constant, and an increase in axonal supernormality. These changes indicate that the hypoexcitability was due to axonal hyperpolarization. 3. The activity-dependent hypoexcitability increased in depth and duration the longer the contraction. Following a 1 min contraction, it produced a 24 % increase in threshold, waning over 15 min. The hypoexcitability was greater than in cutaneous afferents tetanized to produce an equivalent rate-dependent stress. 4. It is concluded that natural activity results in substantial hyperpolarization of active axons and that, for similar discharge rates, the degree of hyperpolarization is greater in motor axons than cutaneous afferents. The greater effect of activity on the excitability of motor axons could be due to less inward rectification and less persistent Na+ conductance than in sensory axons. It is suggested that motor axons may therefore be more susceptible than cutaneous afferents to conduction block at sites of impaired safety margin for impulse conduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Reaction Time
  • Skin / innervation