Modulation of motor cortex excitability after upper limb immobilization

Giampietro Zanette, Paolo Manganotti, Antonio Fiaschi, Stefano Tamburin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective To examine the mechanisms of disuse-induced plasticity following long-term limb immobilization. Methods We studied 9 subjects, who underwent left upper limb immobilization for unilateral wrist fractures. All subjects were examined immediately after splint removal. Cortical motor maps, resting motor threshold (RMT), motor evoked potential (MEP) latency and MEP recruitment curves were studied from abductor pollicis brevis (APB) and flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscles with single pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Paired pulse TMS was used to study intracortical inhibition and facilitation. Compound muscle action potentials (CMAPs) and F waves were obtained after median nerve stimulation. In 4/9 subjects the recording was repeated after 35-41 days. Results CMAP amplitude and RMT were reduced in APB muscle on the immobilized sides in comparison to the non-immobilized sides and controls after splint removal. CMAP amplitude and RMT were unchanged in FCR muscle. MEP latency and F waves were unchanged. MEP recruitment was significantly greater on the immobilized side at rest, but the asymmetry disappeared during voluntary muscle contraction. Paired pulse TMS showed an imbalance between inhibitory and excitatory networks, with a prevalence of excitation on the immobilized sides. A slight, non-significant change in the strength of corticospinal projections to the non-immobilized sides was found. TMS parameters were not correlated with hand dexterity. These abnormalities were largely normalized at the time of retesting in the four patients who were followed-up. Conclusions Hyperexcitability occurs within the representation of single muscles, associated with changes in RMT and with an imbalance between intracortical inhibition and facilitation. These findings may be related to changes in the sensory input from the immobilized upper limb and/or in the discharge properties of the motor units. Significance Different mechanisms may contribute to the reversible neuroplastic changes, which occur in response to long-term immobilization of the upper-limbs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1264-1275
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004


  • Cortical hyperexcitability
  • Immobilization
  • Motor system
  • Plasticity
  • Sensorimotor restriction
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Sensory Systems


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