Supraspinal fatigue does not explain the sex difference in muscle fatigue of maximal contractions
Journal of Applied Physiology
Young women are less fatigable than young men for maximal and submaximal contractions, but the contribution of supraspinal fatigue to the sex difference is not known. This study used cortical stimulation to compare the magnitude of supraspinal fatigue during sustained isometric maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) performed with the elbow flexor muscles of young men and women. Eight women (25.6 ± 3.6 yr, mean ± SD) and 9 men (25.4 ± 3.8 yr) performed six sustained MVCs (22-s duration each, separated by 10 s). Before the fatiguing contractions, the men were stronger than the women (75.9 ± 9.2 vs. 42.7 ± 8.0 N·m; P < 0.05) in control MVCs. Voluntary activation measured with cortical stimulation before fatigue was similar for the men and women during the final control MVC (95.7 ± 3.0 vs. 93.3 ± 3.6%; P > 0.05) and at the start of the fatiguing task (P > 0.05). By the end of the six sustained fatiguing MVCs, the men exhibited greater absolute and relative reductions in torque (65 ± 3% of initial MVC) than the women (52 ± 9%; P < 0.05). The increments in torque (superimposed twitch) generated by motor cortex stimulation during each 22-s maximal effort increased with fatigue (P < 0.05). Superimposed twitches were similar for men and women throughout the fatiguing task (5.5 ± 4.1 vs. 7.3 ± 4.7%; P > 0.05), as well as in the last sustained contraction (7.8 ± 5.9 vs. 10.5 ± 5.5%) and in brief recovery MVCs. Voluntary activation determined using an estimated control twitch was similar for the men and women at the start of the sustained maximal contractions(91.4 ± 7.4 vs. 90.4 ± 6.8%, n = 13) and end of the sixth contraction (77.2 ± 13.3% vs. 73.1 ± 19.6%, n = 10). The increase in the area of the motor-evoked potential and duration of the silent period did not differ for men and women during the fatiguing task. However, estimated resting twitch amplitude and the peak rates of muscle relaxation showed greater relative reductions at the end of the fatiguing task for the men than the women. These results indicate that the sex difference in fatigue of the elbow flexor muscles is not explained by a difference in supraspinal fatigue in men and women but is largely due to a sex difference of mechanisms located within the elbow flexor muscles.