Aim: To examine whether the stretch reflex excitability of the soleus muscle changes with age, stretch reflexes at rest (REST) and during weak voluntary contractions (ACT) were elicited in 18 older and 14 younger subjects. Method: The amplitude of the stretch reflex responses and gain, defined as the gradient of the regression line for the relation between stretch reflex responses against the angular velocity of the applied perturbation, were evaluated in each short-latency (M1) and two long-latency components (M2 and M3). Results: It was found that in the older group, both the amplitude and gain of the M1 component did not change from the REST to the ACT conditions, whereas in the younger group both variables significantly increased from the REST to ACT conditions. The latency of the M1 component was significantly shorter under the REST condition (older vs. younger: 51.8 ± 7.37 vs. 55.1 ± 8. 69 ms), while no group differences were found in those variables under the ACT condition, suggesting that the muscle-tendon complexes of SOL muscles of the older subjects were less elastic and had less slack, probably due to age-related histochemical alterations. Further, the Hoffman reflex (H-reflex), elicited during the REST condition in 10 older and 11 younger subjects showed no significant differences, suggesting that the soleus motoneuron response to the Ia input was comparable between the two subject groups. Conclusion: The histochemical alterations occurring with the ageing process might augment the short-latency stretch reflex in the SOL muscle without enhancement of motoneuronal excitability, and this effect might be masked when the muscle is voluntarily activated.
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