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Neuromuscular Research

Staff: Dr Kevin Thomas, Dr Stuart Goodall, Dr Paul Ansdell, Dr John Temesi, Dr Luca Angius, Dr Rade Durbaba, Dr Kirsty Hicks, Professor Glyn Howatson

Collaborators: Professor Tibor Hortobágyi (University of Groningen), Dr Jakob Škarabot (Loughborough University), Professor Sandra Hunter (University of Marquette), Professor Markus Amann (University of Utah), Dr Dawson Kidgell and Dr Ashley Hendy (Monash University). 

Since 2010 the Northumbria laboratories have had the capability of investigating how the neuromuscular system responds and adapts to exercise interventions. Using electrical and magnetic stimulation techniques, the team at Northumbria are investigating how exercise modulates neuromuscular function, and how we recover and adapt to exercise, in both athletic and clinical populations. 

Exercise-induced fatigue & the neuromuscular system

The team at Northumbria have significant expertise in studying how the fatigue experienced during exercise is underpinned by changes in the neuromuscular system. This research aims to understand how different types of exercise (including running, cycling, sprinting, & team sports) affect the central nervous system and muscle, to provide a mechanistic basis to understanding why we fatigue during exercise, and how we can accelerate recovery. As well as understanding fatigue, we have also studied how a small dose of exercise might “prime” the neuromuscular system to enhance athletic performance. This programme of studies continues to reveal new, important, mechanistic information on the cycle of stress-recovery-adaptation in response to different types of exercise. 

Neuromuscular system adaptation to training 

As well as understanding fatigue, we have also studied how the neuromuscular system adapts to exercise over time. This line of enquiry focusses primarily on how resistance training increases muscle strength. As part of this work, we have developed novel methods to measure neuromuscular function and applied these to study adaptation to resistance training. This has included specific work examining the potential of “mirror training”, to maintain muscular strength in an injured, immobilised limb. Collectively this work has important implications for understanding how we can prescribe resistance training to impact muscular strength in both athletic and clinical populations. 

The neuromuscular system in different populations 

The research programme in our laboratory samples from a range of populations to understand how fatigue, exercise, recovery, and adaptation interact to impact the neuromuscular system in different groups. This includes work with various athletic populations, younger and older adults, females, and patient groups who suffer significantly with the symptom of fatigue, specifically multiple sclerosis and cancer patients. The range of populations we are able to study is testament to the expertise within our team, and the diversity of questions that are able to be addressed with these techniques 

Collectively, this area has produced over 50 peer reviewed investigations and is one of the most evolving research areas in the Unit.  Some examples of this work are presented below.  

Find out more  

Thomas, K., Brownstein, C. G., Dent, J., Parker, P., Goodall, S., & Howatson, G. (2018). Neuromuscular Fatigue and Recovery after Heavy Resistance, Jump, and Sprint Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.   

Brownstein, C. G., Ansdell, P., Škarabot, J., Frazer, A., Kidgell, D., Howatson, G., ... & Thomas, K. (2018). Motor cortical and corticospinal function differ during an isometric squat compared to isometric knee extension. Experimental Physiology, 103, 1251-1263. 

Thomas, K., Dent, J., Howatson, G., & Goodall, S. (2017). Etiology and recovery of neuromuscular fatigue following simulated soccer match-play. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(5), 955-964. 

Zult, T., Goodall, S., Thomas, K., Solnik, S., HortobÁgyi, T., & Howatson, G. (2016). Mirror Training Augments the Cross-education of Strength and Affects Inhibitory Paths. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(6), 1001-1013.  

Goodall, S., Thomas, K., Barwood, M., Keane, K., Gonzalez, J. T., St Clair Gibson, A., & Howatson, G. (2017). Neuromuscular changes and the rapid adaptation following a bout of damaging eccentric exercise. Acta Physiologica, 220(4), 486-500.  

Vernillo, G., Temesi, J., Martin, M., & Millet, G. Y. (2018). Mechanisms of Fatigue and Recovery in Upper versus Lower Limbs in Men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 50(2), 334-343.  

Ansdell, P., Brownstein, C. G., Škarabot, J., Angius, L., Kidgell, D., Frazer, A., ... & Thomas, K. (2020). Task-specific strength increases after lower-limb compound resistance training occurred in the absence of corticospinal changes in vastus lateralis. Experimental physiology. 

Brownstein, C. G., Ansdell, P., Škarabot, J., Frazer, A., Kidgell, D., Howatson, G., ... & Thomas, K. (2018). Motor cortical and corticospinal function differ during an isometric squat compared with isometric knee extension. Experimental Physiology, 103(9), 1251-1263. 

Škarabot, J., Ansdell, P., Howatson, G., Goodall, S., & Durbaba, R. (2020). Corticospinal responses during passive shortening and lengthening of tibialis anterior and soleus in older compared to younger adults. Experimental physiology, 105(3), 419. 



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