Nervous system differences between the sexes and across the menstrual cycle




Tenan, Matthew Sheridan

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Sex hormones have in vitro effects on the nervous system. Furthermore, the effects of estradiol and progesterone metabolites have neurologic responses on the motor system, evidenced by transcranial magnetic stimulation studies. Sex hormone effects on the nervous system may underlie some of the sex discrepancies seen in athletic performance, injury and cardiovascular events. Investigating sex differences is often complicated by hormonal oscillations across the menstrual cycle; therefore, the aims of this research were to investigate sex and menstrual cycle effects on the motor and cardiovascular systems and the interaction of these two systems. In study 1, motor unit (MU) recruitment patterns of the vastus medialis (VM) and vastus medialis oblique (VMO) were examined in males and females at five menstrual cycle phases. Initial discharge rate between the VM and VMO were different only in females. This VM/VMO discharge discrepancy was only evident in females during the ovulatory and mid luteal menstrual phases. Study 2 examined the frequency domain relationship of the VM and VMO MUs between the sexes and across the menstrual cycle. Males have 256% to 741% greater odds of having coherent MU oscillations in the common drive band than females, indicating a greater common rate modulation. Further evidence indicated MU pairs from the VMO and VM/VMO have 228% and 212% greater odds of having beta band oscillations than the VM, indicating control of those muscle groups has a common cortical modulation. Study 3 looked at changes in the autonomic nervous system across the menstrual cycle via heart rate variability analysis. Heart rate variability decreases from the follicular to the luteal phases of the menstrual cycle, indicating a decrease in parasympathetic control. In study 4, the time and frequency domain relationship between electrocardiogram and MU discharge timing was examined between the sexes and across the menstrual cycle. The time domain relationship indicated that both males and females have MU time lag centered between 20-25 milliseconds, with an apparent modulation of this relationship across the menstrual cycle. The findings from this series of studies indicate that there are differences between the sexes which are often modified by the menstrual cycle in females.


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