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Electrophysiological Studies in Healthy Subjects Involving Caffeine


We review the electrophysiological studies concerning the effects of caffeine on muscle, lower and upper motor neuron excitability and cognition. Several different methods have been used, such as electromyography, recruitment analysis, H-reflex, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electroencephalography and event-related potentials. The positive effect of caffeine on vigilance, attention, speed of reaction, information processing and arousal is supported by a number of electrophysiological studies. The evidence in favor of an increased muscle fiber resistance is not definitive, but higher or lower motor neuron excitability can occur as a consequence of a greater excitation of the descending input from the brainstem and upper motor neurons. TMS can address the influence of caffeine on the upper motor neuron. Previous studies showed that cortico-motor threshold and intracortical excitatory and inhibitory pathways are not influenced by caffeine. Nonetheless, our results indicate that cortical silent period (CSP) is reduced in resting muscles after caffeine consumption, when stimulating the motor cortex with intensities slightly above threshold. We present new data demonstrating that this effect is also observed in fatigued muscle. We conclude that CSP can be considered a surrogate marker of the effect of caffeine in the brain, in particular of its central ergogenic effect.