Comparison of brain activation after sustained non-fatiguing and fatiguing muscle contraction: A positron emission tomography study

Alexander Korotkov, Sasa Radovanovic, Milos Ljubisavljevic, Eugene Lyskov, Galina Kataeva, Marina Roudas, Sergey Pakhomov, Johan Thunberg, Sviatoslav Medvedev, Håkan Johansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of fatigue refers to a class of acute effects that can impair motor performance, and not to a single mechanism. A great deal is known about the peripheral mechanisms underlying the process of fatigue, but our knowledge of the roles of the central structures in that process is still very limited. During fatigue, it has been shown that peripheral apparatus is capable of generating adequate force while central structures become insufficient/sub- optimal in driving them. This is known as central fatigue, and it can vary between muscles and different tasks. Fatigue induced by submaximal isometric contraction may have a greater central component than fatigue induced by prolonged maximal efforts. We studied the changes in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) of brain structures after sustained isometric muscle contractions of different submaximal force levels and of different durations, and compared them with the conditions observed when the sustained muscle contraction becomes fatiguing. Changes in cortical activity, as indicated by changes in rCBF, were measured using positron emission tomography (PET). Twelve subjects were studied under four conditions: (1) rest condition; (2) contraction of the m. biceps brachii at 30% of MVC, sustained for 60 s; (3) contraction at 30% of MVC, sustained for 120 s, and; (4) contraction at 50% of MVC, sustained for 120 s. The level of rCBF in the activated cortical areas gradually increased with the level and duration of muscle contraction. The fatiguing condition was associated with predominantly contralateral activation of the primary motor (MI) and the primary and secondary somatosensory areas (SI and SII), the somatosensory association area (SAA), and the temporal areas AA and AI. The supplementary motor area (SMA) and the cingula were activated bilaterally. The results show increased cortical activation, confirming that increased effort aimed at maintaining force in muscle fatigue is associated with increased activation of cortical neurons. At the same time, the activation spread to several cortical areas and probably reflects changes in both excitatory and inhibitory cortical circuits. It is suggested that further studies aimed at controlling afferent input from the muscle during fatigue may allow a more precise examination of the roles of each particular region involved in the processing of muscle fatigue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-74
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Central fatigue
  • Cerebral cortex
  • Fatigue
  • PET
  • Post-contraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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