Calcium ions play crucial roles in many forms of synaptic plasticity at central nervous system level. We studied the effects of chronic and acute hypercalcaemia on synaptic plasticity in patients with primary hyperparathyroidism and healthy controls by applying over the primary motor cortex a non-invasive neurophysiological technique named repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Our results showed that conditions of hypercalcaemia decreased synaptic plasticity as tested by rTMS. Our results may help to understand the mechanisms underlying neuronal dysfunctions during hypercalcaemia and to evaluate asymptomatic patients. Abstract We designed the present study to disclose changes in cortical excitability in humans with hypercalcaemia, by delivering repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the primary motor area (M1). In 22 patients with chronic hypercalcaemia related to primary hyperparathyroidism and 22 age-matched healthy subjects 5 Hz-rTMS was delivered at rest and during a sustained voluntary contraction of the target muscle. Changes in the resting motor threshold (RMT), motor evoked potential (MEP) amplitudes and cortical silent period (CSP) duration were measured and compared in patients and healthy controls. Two of the 22 patients were re-tested after parathyroidectomy when serum calcium had normalized. In a subgroup of healthy subjects, changes in the rTMS parameters were tested before and after acute hypercalcaemia. No significant difference between healthy normocalcaemic subjects and chronic hypercalcaemic patients was found in the RMT values and MEP amplitude and CSP duration evoked by the first stimulus of the trains. During the course of 5 Hz-rTMS trains, MEP size increased significantly less in patients with chronic hypercalcaemia than in healthy subjects, whereas the CSP duration lengthened to a similar extent in both groups. In the two patients studied after parathyroidectomy, rTMS elicited a normal MEP amplitude facilitation. Our findings indicate that acute hypercalcaemia significantly decreased the MEP amplitude facilitation. Given that 5 Hz-rTMS modulates cortical excitability through mechanisms resembling short-term synaptic enhancement, the reduction of MEP amplitude facilitation by hypercalcaemia may be related to Ca2+-dependent changes in synaptic plasticity.
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