Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : This study examined the involvement of spinal mechanisms in the control of coactivation during a sustained contraction of the ankle dorsiflexors at 50% of maximal voluntary contraction. Changes in the surface electromyogram (EMG) of the tibialis anterior and of two antagonist muscles, the soleus and lateral gastrocnemius, were investigated during and after the fatigue task. Concurrently, the compound action potential (M-wave) and the Hoffmann reflex of the soleus and lateral gastrocnemius were recorded. The results showed that the torque of the ankle dorsiflexors and the average EMG of the tibialis anterior during maximal voluntary contraction declined by 40.9 +/- 17.7% (mean +/- SD; P < 0.01) and 37.0 +/- 19.9% (P < 0.01), respectively, at task failure. During the submaximal fatiguing contraction, the average EMG of both the agonist and antagonist muscles increased, leading to a nearly constant ratio at the end of the contraction when normalized to postfatigue values. In contrast to the monotonic increase in average EMG of the antagonist muscles, the excitability of their spinal reflex pathways exhibited a biphasic modulation. The amplitude of the Hoffman reflexes in the soleus and lateral gastrocnemius increased to 147.5 +/- 52.9% (P < 0.05) and 166.7 +/- 74.9% (P < 0.01), respectively, during the first 20% of the contraction and then subsequently declined to 66.3 +/- 44.8 and 74.4 +/- 44.2% of their initial values. In conclusion, the results show that antagonist coactivation did not contribute to task failure. The different changes in voluntary EMG activity and spinal reflex excitability in the antagonist muscles during the fatiguing contraction support the concept that the level of coactivation is controlled by supraspinal rather than spinal mechanisms. The findings indicate, however, that antagonist coactivation cannot simply be mediated by a central descending "common drive" to the motor neuron pools of the agonist-antagonist muscle pairs. Rather, they suggest a more subtle regulation of the drive, possibly through presynaptic mechanisms, to the motoneurons that innervate the antagonist muscles.