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Dr Serajul Khan


Unexpected factors affecting the excitability of human motoneurones in voluntary and stimulated contractions.

Khan SI, Taylor JL, Gandevia SC

Aging reduces the high-frequency and short-term adaptation of the vestibulo-ocular reflex in mice.

Khan SI, Hübner PP, Brichta AM, Smith DW, Migliaccio AA

Prevailing evidence indicates a relatively late life decline in human vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) function. Although mice are commonly used in mechanistic studies of vestibular function, it remains unclear whether aging produces a corresponding decline in VOR function in mice. We sought to determine how the baseline VOR and its short-term adaptation were affected by aging. We tested 8 young (3-month old) and 8 aged (30-month old-equivalent to a ∼80-year old human) C57BL/6 mice. We measured their VOR response to whole-body static tilts and during 0.1-10 Hz whole-body sinusoidal and transient rotations before and after VOR adaptation training. Our data revealed minimal differences in static counter-tilt response between young and aged mice, but a significant deficit in baseline VOR gain in aged mice during transient rotations. Moreover, aged mice had a significant decrease in short-term VOR adaptation, particularly for training that sought to decrease the VOR response.

The mammalian efferent vestibular system plays a crucial role in the high-frequency response and short-term adaptation of the vestibuloocular reflex.

Hübner PP, Khan SI, Migliaccio AA

Although anatomically well described, the functional role of the mammalian efferent vestibular system (EVS) remains unclear. Unlike in fish and reptiles, the mammalian EVS does not seem to play a role in modulation of primary afferent activity in anticipation of active head movements. However, it could play a role in modulating long-term mechanisms requiring plasticity such as vestibular adaptation. We measured the efficacy of vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) adaptation in α9-knockout mice. These mice carry a missense mutation of the gene encoding the α9 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunit. The α9 nAChR subunit is expressed in the vestibular and auditory periphery, and its loss of function could compromise peripheral input from the predominantly cholinergic EVS. We measured the VOR gain (eye velocity/head velocity) in 26 α9-knockout mice and 27 cba129 control mice. Mice were randomly assigned to one of three groups: gain-increase adaptation (1.5×), gain-decrease adaptation (0.5×), or no adaptation (baseline, 1×). After adaptation training (horizontal rotations at 0.5 Hz with peak velocity 20°/s), we measured the sinusoidal (0.2-10 Hz, 20-100°/s) and transient (1,500-6,000°/s(2)) VOR in complete darkness. α9-Knockout mice had significantly lower baseline gains compared with control mice. This difference increased with stimulus frequency (∼ 5% <1 Hz to ∼ 25% >1 Hz). Moreover, vestibular adaptation (difference in VOR gain of gain-increase and gain-decrease adaptation groups as % of gain increase) was significantly reduced in α9-knockout mice (17%) compared with control mice (53%), a reduction of ∼ 70%. Our results show that the loss of α9 nAChRs moderately affects the VOR but severely affects VOR adaptation, suggesting that the EVS plays a crucial role in vestibular plasticity.

The mammalian efferent vestibular system plays a crucial role in vestibulo-ocular reflex compensation after unilateral labyrinthectomy.

Hübner PP, Khan SI, Migliaccio AA

The α9-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α9-nAChR) subunit is expressed in the vestibular and auditory periphery, and its loss of function could compromise peripheral input from the predominantly cholinergic efferent vestibular system (EVS). A recent study has shown that α9-nAChRs play an important role in short-term vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) adaptation. We hypothesize that α9-nAChRs could also be important for other forms of vestibular plasticity, such as that needed for VOR recovery after vestibular organ injury. We measured the efficacy of VOR compensation in α9 knockout mice. These mice have deletion of most of the gene (chrna9) encoding the nAChR and thereby lack α9-nAChRs. We measured the VOR gain (eye velocity/head velocity) in 20 α9 knockout mice and 16 cba129 controls. We measured the sinusoidal (0.2-10 Hz, 20-100°/s) and transient (1,500-6,000°/s(2)) VOR in complete darkness before (baseline) unilateral labyrinthectomy (UL) and then 1, 5, and 28 days after UL. On day 1 after UL, cba129 mice retained ~50% of their initial function for contralesional rotations, whereas α9 knockout mice only retained ~20%. After 28 days, α9 knockout mice had ~50% lower gain for both ipsilesional and contralesional rotations compared with cba129 mice. Cba129 mice regained ~75% of their baseline function for ipsilesional and ~90% for contralesional rotations. In contrast, α9 knockout mice only regained ~30% and ~50% function, respectively, leaving the VOR severely impaired for rotations in both directions. Our results show that loss of α9-nAChRs severely affects VOR compensation, suggesting that complimentary central and peripheral EVS-mediated adaptive mechanisms might be affected by this loss.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Loss of the α9-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α9-nAChR) subunit utilized by the efferent vestibular system (EVS) has been shown to significantly affect vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) adaptation. In our present study we have shown that loss of α9-nAChRs also affects VOR compensation, suggesting that the mammalian EVS plays an important role in vestibular plasticity, in general, and that VOR compensation is a more distributed process than previously thought, relying on both central and peripheral changes.

Velocity-selective adaptation of the horizontal and cross-axis vestibulo-ocular reflex in the mouse.

Hübner PP, Khan SI, Migliaccio AA

One commonly observed phenomenon of vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) adaptation is a frequency-selective change in gain (eye velocity/head velocity) and phase (relative timing between the vestibular stimulus and response) based on the frequency content of the adaptation training stimulus. The neural mechanism behind this type of adaptation is not clear. Our aim was to determine whether there were other parameter-selective effects on VOR adaptation, specifically velocity-selective and acceleration-selective changes in the horizontal VOR gain and phase. We also wanted to determine whether parameter selectivity was also in place for cross-axis adaptation training (a visual-vestibular training stimulus that elicits a vestibular-evoked torsional eye movement during horizontal head rotations). We measured VOR gain and phase in 17 C57BL/6 mice during baseline (no adaptation training) and after gain-increase, gain-decrease and cross-axis adaptation training using a sinusoidal visual-vestibular (mismatch) stimulus with whole-body rotations (vestibular stimulus) with peak velocity 20 and 50°/s both with a fixed frequency of 0.5 Hz. Our results show pronounced velocity selectivity of VOR adaptation. The difference in horizontal VOR gain after gain-increase versus gain-decrease adaptation was maximal when the sinusoidal testing stimulus matched the adaptation training stimulus peak velocity. We also observed similar velocity selectivity after cross-axis adaptation training. Our data suggest that frequency selectivity could be a manifestation of both velocity and acceleration selectivity because when one of these is absent, e.g. acceleration selectivity in the mouse, frequency selectivity is also reduced.

Activity-dependent depression of the recurrent discharge of human motoneurones after maximal voluntary contractions.

Khan SI, Giesebrecht S, Gandevia SC, Taylor JL

Despite maximal voluntary effort, the output of human motoneurone pools diminishes during fatigue. To assess motoneurone behaviour, we measured recurrent discharges evoked antidromically by supramaximal nerve stimulation after isometric maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs).They were measured as F-waves in the electromyographic activity (EMG). Supramaximal stimuli to the common peroneal and ulnar nerves evoked F-waves at rest before and after MVCs in tibialis anterior (TA) and abductor digit minimi (ADM), respectively. F-waves were depressed immediately after a sustained MVC. For TA, the size and time course of depression of the F-wave area (26 ± 13%; mean ± SD; P =0.007) and persistence (∼20%) were similar after a 10-s or 1-min MVC. For ADM, the decline in F-wave area (39.8 ± 19.6%; P <0.01) was similar after the two contractions but the decline in persistence (probability of occurrence) of the F-wave differed (14.6 ± 10.5% and 32.5 ± 17.1% after 10-s and 1-min MVCs respectively). Comparison of a very long (2-min) with a very short (2-s)MVC in ADM showed that the depression of F-wave area, as well as persistence, was greater after the longer contraction. This suggests, at least for ADM, that the depression is related to the duration of voluntary activity and that the decrease in F-waves could contribute to central fatigue. To examine whether changes in motor axon excitability caused the depression, we measured compound muscle action potentials (M-waves) to submaximal stimulation of the ulnar nerve after a 2-s and 2-min MVC. Submaximal M-waves were not depressed after a 2-s MVC. They were depressed by a 2-min MVC, but the time course of depression of the F- and M-waves differed. Thus, depression of F-waves does not simply reflect reduced excitability of peripheral motor axons.Hence, we propose that activity-dependent changes at the soma or the initial segment depress the recurrent discharge of human motoneurones and that this may contribute to central fatigue.

Effect of experimental muscle pain on maximal voluntary activation of human biceps brachii muscle.

Khan SI, McNeil CJ, Gandevia SC, Taylor JL

Muscle pain has widespread effects on motor performance, but the effect of pain on voluntary activation, which is the level of neural drive to contracting muscle, is not known. To determine whether induced muscle pain reduces voluntary activation during maximal voluntary contractions, voluntary activation of elbow flexors was assessed with both motor-point stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation over the motor cortex. In addition, we performed a psychophysical experiment to investigate the effect of induced muscle pain across a wide range of submaximal efforts (5-75% maximum). In all studies, elbow flexion torque was recorded before, during, and after experimental muscle pain by injection of 1 ml of 5% hypertonic saline into biceps. Injection of hypertonic saline evoked deep pain in the muscle (pain rating ∼5 on a scale from 0 to 10). Experimental muscle pain caused a small (∼5%) but significant reduction of maximal voluntary torque in the motor-point and motor cortical studies (P < 0.001 and P = 0.045, respectively; n = 7). By contrast, experimental muscle pain had no significant effect on voluntary activation when assessed with motor-point and motor cortical stimulation although voluntary activation tested with motor-point stimulation was reduced by ∼2% in contractions after pain had resolved (P = 0.003). Furthermore, induced muscle pain had no significant effect on torque output during submaximal efforts (P > 0.05; n = 6), which suggests that muscle pain did not alter the relationship between the sense of effort and production of voluntary torque. Hence, the present study suggests that transient experimental muscle pain in biceps brachii has a limited effect on central motor pathways.

The reduction in human motoneurone responsiveness during muscle fatigue is not prevented by increased muscle spindle discharge.

McNeil CJ, Giesebrecht S, Khan SI, Gandevia SC, Taylor JL

Motoneurone excitability is rapidly and profoundly reduced during a sustained maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) when tested in the transient silent period which follows transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex. One possible cause of this reduction in excitability is a fatigue-induced withdrawal of excitatory input to motoneurones from muscle spindle afferents. We aimed to test if muscle spindle input produced by tendon vibration would ameliorate suppression of the cervicomedullary motor-evoked potential (CMEP) in the silent period during a sustained MVC. Seven subjects performed a 2 min MVC of the elbow flexors. Stimulation of the corticospinal tract at the level of the mastoids was preceded 100 ms earlier by TMS. These stimulus pairs were delivered every 10 s during the 2 min MVC. Stimulus pairs at 30, 50, 70, 90 and 110 s were delivered while vibration (-80 Hz) was applied to the distal tendon of biceps. On a separate day, the protocol was repeated with both stimuli delivered to the motor cortex. The CMEP in the silent period decreased rapidly with fatigue (to -9% of control) and was not affected by tendon vibration (P = 0.766). The motor-evoked potential in the silent period also declined rapidly (to -5% of control) and was similarly unaffected by tendon vibration (P = 0.075). These data suggest motoneurone disfacilitation due to a fatigue-related decrease of muscle spindle discharge does not contribute significantly to the profound suppression of motoneurone excitability during the silent period. Therefore, a change to intrinsic motoneurone properties caused by repetitive discharge is most probably responsible.

Inhibitory mechanisms following electrical stimulation of tendon and cutaneous afferents in the lower limb.

Khan SI, Burne JA

Electrical stimulation of the Achilles tendon (TES) produced strong reflex depression (duration>250 ms) of a small background contraction in both heads of gastrocnemius (GA) via large diameter electrodes localized to the tendon. The inhibitory responses were produced without electrical (M wave) or mechanical (muscle twitch) signs of direct muscle stimulation. In this study, the contribution of presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms to the depression was investigated by studying conditioning effects of tendon afferent stimulation on the mechanical tendon reflex (TR) and magnetic motor evoked potential (MEP). TES completely inhibited the TR over an ISI of 300 ms that commenced before and continued during and after the period of voluntary EMG depression. Tendon afferent conditioning stimuli also partially inhibited the MEP, but over a short time course confined to the period of voluntary EMG depression. The strength and extended time course of tendon afferent conditioning of the TR and its failure to produce a similar depression of the MEP are consistent with a mechanism involving presynaptic inhibition of Ia terminals. Cutaneous (sural nerve) afferent conditioning partially inhibited the TR and MEP over a short time course (ISI <100 ms) resembling the inhibition seen in the voluntary EMG. This was consistent with the postsynaptic origin of cutaneous inhibition of the motoneurons.

Afferents contributing to autogenic inhibition of gastrocnemius following electrical stimulation of its tendon.

Khan SI, Burne JA

Electrical stimulation of the Achilles tendon produced strong reflex inhibition of the ongoing voluntary EMG activity in the two heads of the gastrocnemius (GA) muscle in all tested subjects. The inhibition was seen clearly in both averaged and single sweep surface EMG records. The inhibitory response was produced without electrical (M wave) or mechanical, (muscle twitch) signs of direct muscle stimulation. The onset latency and duration for the first period of inhibition (I(1)) were 47-49 ms and 67 ms, respectively. A second inhibition (I(2)) had an onset latency of 187-193 ms and duration under 40 ms. Non-noxious stimuli in the range of 2.6-7.6 x mean perceptual threshold, when delivered to four locations over the GA tendon, all produced clear inhibition of the voluntary muscle activity. The inhibition was maximal when the cathode was a large metal plate located near the musculotendinous junction and decreased approximately linearly with distances more distal to that site. The effect of passive muscle stretch on the electrically induced tendon reflex inhibition (TRE) was tested at ankle joint angles incremented in steps of 20 degrees. It was found that TRE is strongly dependent on joint angle, being maximal in the fully stretched muscle. TRE was lost completely after partial tibial nerve block. In comparison, GA inhibition produced by cutaneous (sural) nerve stimulation was of a higher threshold, longer latency and persisted after partial tibial nerve block. We thus demonstrated a powerful autogenic inhibition in the lower limb arising from tendon afferents in conscious subjects that is increased by passive muscle stretch and likely to originate from group I tendon afferents.

Reflex inhibition of normal cramp following electrical stimulation of the muscle tendon.

Khan SI, Burne JA

Muscle cramp was induced in one head of the gastrocnemius muscle (GA) in eight of thirteen subjects using maximum voluntary contraction when the muscle was in the shortened position. Cramp in GA was painful, involuntary, and localized. Induction of cramp was indicated by the presence of electromyographic (EMG) activity in one head of GA while the other head remained silent. In all cramping subjects, reflex inhibition of cramp electrical activity was observed following Achilles tendon electrical stimulation and they all reported subjective relief of cramp. Thus muscle cramp can be inhibited by stimulation of tendon afferents in the cramped muscle. When the inhibition of cramp-generated EMG and voluntary EMG was compared at similar mean EMG levels, the area and timing of the two phases of inhibition (I(1), I(2)) did not differ significantly. This strongly suggests that the same reflex pathway was the source of the inhibition in both cases. Thus the cramp-generated EMG is also likely to be driven by spinal synaptic input to the motorneurons. We have found that the muscle conditions that appear necessary to facilitate cramp, a near to maximal contraction of the shortened muscle, are also the conditions that render the inhibition generated by tendon afferents ineffective. When the strength of tendon inhibition in cramping subjects was compared with that in subjects that failed to cramp, it was found to be significantly weaker under the same experimental conditions. It is likely that reduced inhibitory feedback from tendon afferents has an important role in generating cramp.