115 , 2016-03-09 , The American Physiological Society
We postulated that primary motor cortex (M1) activity does not just decrease immediately prior to voluntary muscle relaxation; rather, it is dynamic and acts as an active cortical process. Thus we investigated the detailed time course of M1 excitability changes during muscle relaxation. Ten healthy participants performed a simple reaction time task. After the go signal, they rapidly terminated isometric abduction of the right index finger from a constant muscle force output of 20% of their maximal voluntary contraction force and performed voluntary muscle relaxation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation pulses were randomly delivered before and after the go signal, and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were recorded from the right first dorsal interosseous muscle. We selected the time course relative to an appropriate reference point, the onset of voluntary relaxation, to detect excitability changes in M1. MEP amplitude from 80 to 60 ms before the estimated electromyographic offset was significantly greater than that in other intervals. Dynamic excitability changes in M1 just prior to quick voluntary muscle relaxation indicate that cortical control of muscle relaxation is established through active processing and not by simple cessation of activity. The cortical mechanisms underlying muscle relaxation need to be reconsidered in light of such dynamics.