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Effects of acute intermittent hypoxia on corticospinal excitability within the primary motor cortex

Radia, S., Vallence, A-MORCID: 0000-0001-9190-6366, Fujiyama, H.ORCID: 0000-0002-7546-6636, Fitzpatrick, R., Etherington, S.ORCID: 0000-0002-6589-8793, Scott, B.R.ORCID: 0000-0002-2484-4019 and Girard, O. (2022) Effects of acute intermittent hypoxia on corticospinal excitability within the primary motor cortex. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 122 (9). pp. 2111-2123.

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Acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH) is a safe and non-invasive treatment approach that uses brief, repetitive periods of breathing reduced oxygen air alternated with normoxia. While AIH is known to affect spinal circuit excitability, the effects of AIH on cortical excitability remain largely unknown. We investigated the effects of AIH on cortical excitability within the primary motor cortex.


Eleven healthy, right-handed participants completed two testing sessions: (1) AIH (comprising 3 min in hypoxia [fraction of inspired oxygen ~ 10%] and 2 min in normoxia repeated over five cycles) and (2) normoxia (NOR) (equivalent duration to AIH). Single- and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulations were delivered to the primary motor cortex, before and 0, 25, and 50 min after AIH and normoxia.


The mean nadir in arterial oxygen saturation was lower (p < 0.001) during the cycles of AIH (82.5 ± 4.9%) than NOR (97.8 ± 0.6%). There was no significant difference in corticospinal excitability, intracortical facilitation, or intracortical inhibition between AIH and normoxia conditions at any time point (all p > 0.05). There was no association between arterial oxygen saturation and changes in corticospinal excitability after AIH (r = 0.05, p = 0.87).


Overall, AIH did not modify either corticospinal excitability or excitability of intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory circuits within the primary motor cortex. Future research should explore whether a more severe or individualised AIH dose would induce consistent, measurable changes in corticospinal excitability.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Medical, Molecular and Forensic Sciences
Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Copyright: © 2022 The Authors.
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