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Mechanical and focal electrical stimuli applied to the skin of the index fingertip induce both inhibition and excitation in low-threshold flexor carpi radialismotor units

Authors

  • George Lourenço,

    1. Dipartimento di Medicina Chirurgia e Odontoiatria, Polo Didattico San Paolo, Università degli Studi, Via di Rudinì 8, I-20142 Milano, Italy
    2. U731 INSERM, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France
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  • Antonio Caronni,

    1. Dipartimento di Medicina Chirurgia e Odontoiatria, Polo Didattico San Paolo, Università degli Studi, Via di Rudinì 8, I-20142 Milano, Italy
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  • Paolo Cavallari

    1. Dipartimento di Medicina Chirurgia e Odontoiatria, Polo Didattico San Paolo, Università degli Studi, Via di Rudinì 8, I-20142 Milano, Italy
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Professor Paolo Cavallari, as above.
E-mail: paolo.cavallari@unimi.it

Abstract

It has been observed that mechanical stimulation of the skin of the index fingertip causes a weak short-latency inhibition followed by a strong long-lasting facilitation of the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) H-reflex. Based on threshold and latency, these cutaneous reflexes are thought to be routed to motoneurons by parallel pathways. As recent studies have shown predominant inhibitory potentials in slow motoneurons and predominant excitatory potentials in faster ones, the question arises as to whether or not the two cutaneous pathways converge onto the same motoneuron. The poststimulus time histogram technique was used to investigate the changes in firing frequency of low-threshold FCR motor units (MUs), induced by passive mechanical or focal electrical stimuli to the index skin. After gently tapping the finger pulp a small sharp inhibition appeared in 20 MUs. On average, inhibition started 10.2 ± 1.6 ms from the homonymous Ia monosynaptic effect, and its central delay was estimated to be 1.2 ± 1.6 ms. The subsequent facilitation, more consistent, had a mean latency of 13.5 ± 1.7 ms. Inhibition and excitation were statistically significant (P < 0.05). A similar biphasic effect was observed in seven other FCR-MUs, also after focal electrical stimulation of the same skin area. Comparison with the time course of the H-reflex, representing the whole population of MUs, showed striking similarities in time course and latency to the present MU effect. It is thus suggested that cutaneous spinal pathways may have a homogeneous distribution within the FCR motoneuron pool, and that the skewed distribution of cutaneous afferents onto motoneurons should be not taken as a rule.

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