Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to track neural activation in the brain during functional activities. The purpose of this study was to investigate brain neural responses to blood flow restricted (BFR) versus control handgrip exercise. Using a randomized crossover design, 25 subjects (12 males, 13 females) completed handgrip exercises during two conditions: BFR vs. control. To familiarize participants with the exercise conditions, one week prior to MRI scanning participants completed each exercise condition once on separate days, with 72 hours between days. The following week fMRI scans were performed at the same time of day, separated by 72 hours. The exercise protocol consisted of five 30-second sets of squeezing a nonmetallic handgrip exerciser (a reported 13.6 kg resistance), doing as many repetitions as possible, with 20-second rest intervals between sets. We saw a significant main effect of exercise condition (BFR versus control) between premotor dorsal (PMd)(F = 5.71, p = 0.022), premotor ventral (PMv)(F = 8.21, p = 0.007), and right ventral striatum (VS_R)(F = 7.36, p = 0.01). When considering anatomical regions of interest, we did not find significant differences between exercise conditions in bilateral S1 (p > 0.82), primary motor cortex (M1)(p > 0.33), supplementary motor area (SMA)(p > 0.66), cerebellum (CB)(p > 0.70), insular cortex (INS)(p > 0.45), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)(p > 0.24), or thalamus (TH)(p > 0.66). Bilateral ACC (ACC_B), right middle frontal gyrus (MFG_R), and the right primary sensory cortex (S1_R) showed significant linear trends (p = 0.001) over the five exercise sets. Finally, the S1_R, left primary sensory cortex (S1_L), and the right anterior cingulate cortex (ACC_R) showed a main effect of set (p < 0.02). These data demonstrate that acute training with BFR during handgrip exercise results in different neural activation patterns in select areas of the brain, compared to a control. These results show that while completing less work with BFR exercise, subjects can achieve a similar amount of brain neural activation as with a higher-volume exercise. Brain neural activation is important to overall patient health and these findings may be important for prescribing training with BFR in clinical and applied research settings.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Exercise Sciences



Date Submitted


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fMRI, central nervous system, blood flow restriction, handgrip exercise, central fatigue