Sensory information continuously converges on the spinal cord during a variety of motor behaviours. Here, we examined presynaptic control of group Ia afferents in relation to acquisition of a novel motor skill. We tested whether repetition of two motor tasks with different degrees of difficulty, a novel visuo-motor task involving the ankle muscles, and a control task involving simple voluntary ankle movements, would induce changes in the size of the soleus H-reflex. The slope of the H-reflex recruitment curve and the H-max/M-max ratio were depressed after repetition of the visuo-motor skill task and returned to baseline after 10 min. No changes were observed after the control task. To elucidate the mechanisms contributing to the H-reflex depression, we measured the size of the long-latency depression of the soleus H-reflex evoked by peroneal nerve stimulation (D1 inhibition) and the size of the monosynaptic Ia facilitation of the soleus H-reflex evoked by femoral nerve stimulation. The D1 inhibition was increased and the femoral nerve facilitation was decreased following the visuo-motor skill task, suggesting an increase in presynaptic inhibition of Ia afferents. No changes were observed in the disynaptic reciprocal Ia inhibition. Somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) evoked by stimulation of the tibial nerve (TN) were also unchanged, suggesting that transmission in ascending pathways was unaltered following the visuo-motor skill task. Together these observations suggest that a selective presynaptic control of Ia afferents contributes to the modulation of sensory inputs during acquisition of a novel visuo-motor skill in healthy humans.
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