Document Type




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American Physiological Society

Source Publication

Journal of Applied Physiology

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A cognitive challenge when imposed during a low-force isometric contraction will exacerbate sex- and age-related decreases in force steadiness, but the mechanism is not known. We determined the role of oscillations in the common synaptic input to motor units on force steadiness during a muscle contraction with a concurrent cognitive challenge. Forty-nine young adults (19–30 yr; 25 women, 24 men) and 36 old adults (60–85 yr; 19 women, 17 men) performed a cognitive challenge (counting backward by 13) during an isometric elbow flexion task at 5% of maximal voluntary contraction. Single-motor units were decomposed from high-density surface EMG recordings. For a subgroup of participants, motor units were matched during control and cognitive challenge trials, so the same motor unit was analyzed across conditions. Reduced force steadiness was associated with greater oscillations in the synaptic input to motor units during both control and cognitive challenge trials (r = 0.45–0.47, P < 0.01). Old adults and young women showed greater oscillations in the common synaptic input to motor units and decreased force steadiness when the cognitive challenge was imposed, but young men showed no change across conditions (session × age × sex, P < 0.05). Oscillations in the common synaptic input to motor units is a potential mechanism for altered force steadiness when a cognitive challenge is imposed during low-force contractions in young women and old adults.


Accepted version. Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 126, No. 4 (April 2019): 1056-1065. DOI. © 2019 American Physiological Society. Used with permission.

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