Somatosensory temporal discrimination threshold involves inhibitory mechanisms in the primary somatosensory area

Lorenzo Rocchi, Elias Casula, Pierluigi Tocco, Alfredo Berardelli, John Rothwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Somatosensory temporal discrimination threshold (STDT) is defined as the shortest time interval necessary for a pair of tactile stimuli to be perceived as separate. Although STDT is altered in several neurological disorders, its neural bases are not entirely clear. We used continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) to condition the excitability of the primary somatosensory cortex in healthy humans to examine its possible contribution to STDT. Excitability was assessed using the recovery cycle of the N20 component of somatosensory evoked potentials (SEP) and the area of high-frequency oscillations (HFO). cTBS increased STDT and reduced inhibition in the N20 recovery cycle at an interstimulus interval of 5 ms. It also reduced the amplitude of late HFO. All three effects were correlated. There was no effect of cTBS over the secondary somatosensory cortex on STDT, although it reduced the N120 component of the SEP. STDT is assessed conventionally with a simple ascending method. To increase insight into the effect of cTBS, we measured temporal discrimination with a psychophysical method. cTBS reduced the slope of the discrimination curve, consistent with a reduction of the quality of sensory information caused by an increase in noise. We hypothesize that cTBS reduces the effectiveness of inhibitory interactions normally used to sharpen temporal processing of sensory inputs. This reduction in discriminability of sensory input is equivalent to adding neural noise to the signal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-335
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 13 2016


  • High-frequency oscillations
  • Somatosensory evoked potentials
  • Somatosensory temporal discrimination threshold
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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