Cutaneous afferent input does not modulate motor intracortical inhibition in ageing men


Dr J. B. Pitcher, as above.


Afferent input has been shown to be a powerful modulator of cortical inhibition. Such modulation is likely to be important for the control of ongoing movement, but may also play a role in facilitating neuroplastic reorganisation. Human motor control and neuroplasticity both decline with ageing, whereas the efficacy of short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) appears not to. We examined if ageing alters the efficacy of afferent modulation of SICI. Previously, electrical cutaneous stimulation of a finger has been shown to reduce SICI in the motor cortices of young adults. Paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation was used to assess SICI in the cortical representation of the first dorsal interosseous muscle. SICI was assessed separately under two conditions: with and without prior afferent input from electrical cutaneous stimulation of the index finger. Fifteen ‘young’ (20.1 ± 2.1 years) and 15 ‘old’ male humans (65.5 ± 3.9 years) were studied. SICI did not differ when young and old males were compared. However, when preceded by electrical cutaneous finger stimulation, SICI was reduced in young men but not old men. Reflex testing indicated preservation of the afferent volley to the cortex. These findings suggest that a contributing factor in the decline of motor function, and possibly neuroplasticity, with ageing is loss of SICI modulation, probably due to altered cortical sensorimotor integration of afferent input.