Probing the neuromodulatory gain control system in sports and exercise sciences
The monoaminergic bulbospinal pathways from the brainstem are central to motor functions by regulating the gains of spinal motoneurons and represent, in that respect, probably the primary control system for motoneuron excitability. Yet, the efficiency of this system is few, if not never, assessed in the fields of sports and exercise sciences. In this review paper, we propose a methodological approach intended to assess how this neuromodulatory system affects motoneuron excitability. This approach is based on the use of tendon vibration which can, in certain circumstances, induce the generation of the so-called tonic vibration reflex through the stimulation of muscle spindles. Force and EMG responses to tendon vibration are indeed indicative of how this descending system modulates the gain of the ionotropic inputs from Ia afferents and thus of the strength of the monoaminergic drive. After a brief presentation of the neuromodulatory system and of the mechanisms involved in the generation of the tonic vibration reflex, we address some important methodological considerations regarding the use of the TVR to probe this neuromodulatory gain control system. Hopefully, this paper will encourage sports and exercise scientists to investigate this system.