1. The possibility was investigated that cortical excitation to human thigh motoneurones is relayed via lumbar premotoneurones. 2. Test responses were evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in voluntarily contracting quadriceps (Q) and semitendinosus (ST) muscles: either a motor evoked potential (MEP) in surface recordings or a peak of cortical excitation in the post-stimulus time histogram (PSTH) of single motor units was used. These test responses were conditioned by stimuli to the common peroneal (CP) or gastrocnemius medialis (GM) nerves. 3. CP stimulation evoked a large biphasic facilitation of the Q MEP, with early, short-lasting, low-threshold (0.6-0.8 x motor threshold (MT)) and late, longer lasting and higher threshold (1.2-1.5 x MT) peaks separated by a period of depression. GM nerve stimulation evoked a similar early depression and late facilitation in the ST MEP. 4. CP-induced effects in the Q H reflex were different (smaller late facilitation not preceded by any depression), suggesting that CP and cortical volleys interact at a premotoneuronal level to modify the Q MEP. 5. Peaks of cortical excitation evoked by TMS in single motor unit PSTHs were modulated by the conditioning volley like the MEPs with, in Q motor units, early and late CP-induced facilitations separated by a depression, and in ST motor units a late GM-induced facilitation. Facilitations on combined stimulation (i) were greater than the sum of effects by separate stimuli and (ii) never affected the initial part of the cortical peak. 6. It is concluded that the features of the reported facilitatory interactions between cortical and peripheral volleys are consistent with interactions in a population of lumbar excitatory premotoneurones co-activated by group I and group II afferents. The potency of the effects suggests that a significant part of the cortical excitation to motoneurones of thigh muscles is relayed via these interneurones. 7. It is argued that the early depression in ST motoneurones and the separation of the two peaks of facilitation in Q motoneurones reflect a cortical facilitation of spinal inhibitory interneurones projecting on excitatory premotoneurones.