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Normal coordinated movement requires that the activity of antagonistic motoneurones may be depressed at appropriate times during the movement. Both glycinergic and GABAergic inhibitory mechanisms participate in this control. Patients with the major form of hyperekplexia (hereditary startle disease) have impaired inhibition of spinal motoneurones from local glycinergic interneurones and represent an ideal opportunity for studying the role of glycinergic inhibition in the control of antagonistic muscles. In the present study we investigated whether impaired glycinergic inhibition affects the corticospinal control of antagonistic spinal motoneurones in 10 patients with hyperekplexia and whether there are mechanisms that may compensate for the lack of glycinergic inhibition. In healthy subjects transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) produced a short-latency inhibition of the soleus H-reflex at rest and during tonic dorsiflexion. This inhibition, which has been shown to be mediated by spinal (glycinergic) inhibitory interneurones, was absent in all four patients in whom this experiment was performed. This confirms that glycinergic transmission is impaired in the patients. During voluntary dorsiflexion subthreshold TMS produced a depression of the ongoing EMG activity in the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle in both healthy subjects and all of the six tested patients. This is consistent with the idea that this EMG depression is caused by activation of cortical (GABAergic) inhibitory interneurones. Cross-correlation analysis revealed normal short-term synchronization of TA motor units accompanied by coherence in the 8-12 Hz and 18-35 Hz frequency bands in the 10 patients. As in healthy subjects, 8-12 Hz coherence accompanied by decreased tendency to discharge synchronously (de-synchronization) was found in recordings from the antagonistic TA and soleus muscles in 2 of the 10 patients. This suggests that glycinergic inhibition is not responsible for de-synchronization of antagonistic motor units, but that other GABAergic-inhibitory mechanisms must be involved. We propose that such mechanisms may compensate for the lack of glycinergic reciprocal inhibition in the hyperekplectic patients and explain why voluntary movements are not more severely affected.


Journal article


J Physiol

Publication Date





631 - 640


Adult, Electric Stimulation, Electromyography, Glycine, H-Reflex, Humans, Leg, Magnetics, Middle Aged, Motor Neurons, Muscle, Skeletal, Nervous System Diseases, Neural Inhibition, Pyramidal Tracts, Receptors, Glycine, Synaptic Transmission