Menstrual cycle-associated modulations in neuromuscular function and fatigability of the knee extensors in eumenorrheic women

Paul Ansdell, Callum G. Brownstein, Jakob Škarabot, Kirsty M. Hicks, Davina C. M. Simoes, Kevin Thomas, Glyn Howatson, Sandra Hunter, Stuart Goodall*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Sex hormone concentrations of eumenorrheic women typically fluctuate across the menstrual cycle and can affect neural function such that estrogen has neuroexcitatory effects, and progesterone induces inhibition. However, the effects of these changes on corticospinal and intracortical circuitry and the motor performance of the knee extensors are unknown. The present two-part investigation aimed to 1) determine the measurement error of an exercise task, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-, and motor nerve stimulation (MNS)-derived responses in women ingesting a monophasic oral contraceptive pill (hormonally-constant) and 2) investigate whether these measures were modulated by menstrual cycle phase (MCP), by examining them before and after an intermittent isometric fatiguing task (60% of maximal voluntary contraction, MVC) with the knee extensors until task failure in eumenorrheic women on days 2, 14, and 21 of the menstrual cycle. The repeatability of neuromuscular measures at baseline and fatigability ranged between moderate and excellent in women taking the oral contraceptive pill. MVC was not affected by MCP (P = 0.790). Voluntary activation (MNS and TMS) peaked on day 14 (P = 0.007 and 0.008, respectively). Whereas corticospinal excitability was unchanged, short-interval intracortical inhibition was greatest on day 21 compared with days 14 and 2 (P < 0.001). Additionally, time to task failure was longer on day 21 than on both days 14 and 2 (24 and 36%, respectively, P = 0.030). The observed changes were larger than the associated measurement errors. These data demonstrate that neuromuscular function and fatigability of the knee extensors vary across the menstrual cycle and may influence exercise performance involving locomotor muscles. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The present two-part study first demonstrated the repeatability of transcranial magnetic stimulation- and electrical motor nerve stimulation-evoked variables in a hormonally constant female population. Subsequently, it was demonstrated that the eumenorrheic menstrual cycle affects neuromuscular function. Changing concentrations of neuroactive hormones corresponded to greater voluntary activation on day 14, greater intracortical inhibition on day 21, and lowest fatigability on day 21. These alterations of knee extensor neuromuscular function have implications for locomotor activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1701-1712
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
Early online date7 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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