Acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH) enhances voluntary motor output in humans with central nervous system damage. The neural mechanisms contributing to these beneficial effects are unknown. We examined corticospinal function by evaluating motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by cortical and subcortical stimulation of corticospinal axons and the activity in intracortical circuits in a finger muscle before and after 30 min of AIH or sham AIH. We found that the amplitude of cortically and subcortically elicited MEPs increased for 75 min after AIH but not sham AIH while intracortical activity remained unchanged. To examine further these subcortical effects, we assessed spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) targeting spinal synapses and the excitability of spinal motoneurons. Notably, AIH increased STDP outcomes while spinal motoneuron excitability remained unchanged. Our results provide the first evidence that AIH changes corticospinal function in humans, likely by altering corticospinal-motoneuronal synaptic transmission. AIH may represent a novel noninvasive approach for inducing spinal plasticity in humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)