Dynamic exercise has been shown to stimulate rapidly both group III and IV muscle afferents. The often rapid (i.e. 2 s) onset latencies of the group IV afferents is particularly surprising because these unmyelinated afferents are thought to respond to the gradual accumulation of metabolites signalling a mismatch between blood/oxygen demand and supply in exercising muscles. One explanation for the rapid onset to exercise by group IV afferents is that they are mechanosensitive, a concept that has been supported by the finding that these afferents were stimulated by vasodilatation induced by injection of vasoactive drugs. We therefore examined in decerebrated cats the effect of gadolinium, a blocker of mechanogated channels, on the responses of group III and IV muscle afferents to dynamic exercise induced by electrical stimulation of the mesencephalic locomotor region. We found that gadolinium (10 m m; 1 ml) injected into the abdominal aorta had no significant effect (P > 0.05) on the responses of 11 group IV afferents to dynamic exercise. In contrast, gadolinium markedly attenuated the responses of 11 group III afferents to exercise (P < 0.05). Our findings suggest that group IV afferents are not responding to a mechanical stimulus during exercise. Instead their rapid response to dynamic exercise might be caused by a chemical substance whose concentration is directly proportional to blood flow, which increases in the skeletal muscles when they are dynamically exercising.
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