Magnetic transcranial stimulation in healthy humans: influence on the behavior of upper limb motor units

P. M. Rossini, M. D. Caramia, C. Iani, M. T. Desiato, G. Sciarretta, G. Bernardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim of the study was to analyze the characteristics of motor action potentials recruitment during magnetic trans-cranial stimulation (TCS) of the brain. Coaxial needle recordings from hand and upper limb musculature, as well as surface electrodes were employed in 20 healthy controls during magnetic TCS with regular and figure-of-8 coil in different experimental protocols including: (a) simple reaction time paradigm during which TCS at subthreshold intensity for eliciting MEPs in relaxation was delivered at various intervals between the signal to move and the onset of the voluntary EMG burst; (b) suprathreshold TCS was randomly delivered while the subject was voluntarily firing at a regular rate one 'low' and/or 'high threshold' motor unit action potential (MUAP). The pre- and post-TCS MUAPs recruitment as well as their firing rates were compared; (c) recordings with two separate needles picking up individual MUAPs from the same or from two different muscles were obtained in order to test 'synchrony' of MUAP's discharge before and after TCS; (d) the influence of the time-interval separating the last discharged MUAP from ICS was evaluated. (e) differences between simultaneous surface and depth recordings were examined. The following results were obtained. (a) The same low-amplitude MUAP which is first voluntarily recruited at the onset of the EMG burst is the one initially fired by TCS in the pre-movement period. Latency shortenings and amplitude enlargement of surface MEPs were observed with faster reaction times. Such changes were coupled to the recruitment of high-threshold MUAPs being larger in amplitude and briefer in latency than the initial one. (b) When using suprathreshold TCS, MEPs followed by silent periods were found. The SP was followed by a rebound acceleration of the MUAPs firing rate compared with pre-TCS levels. Besides rebound acceleration, new MUAPs of larger amplitude than the original (=pre-stimulus) ones were recruited beyond the voluntary control. This phenomenon-together with longer SPs- was progressively more pronounced with stronger stimuli. (c) TCS was affecting the 'synchrony' of MUAPs. (d) If the latency difference between the last pre-stimulus spike and the TCS was exceeding the half-cycle of the MUAP 'natural' firing, the SP was longer in duration. (e) SPs not preceded by MEPs were clearly present in depth recordings. Surface recordings mainly reflected the behavior of high-threshold and large MUAPs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-324
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 10 1995


  • Magnetic stimulation
  • Motor unit
  • Pyramidal tract
  • Silent period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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