The aim of this study was to determine whether prolonged, repetitive mixed nerve stimulation (duty cycle 1 s, 500 ms on-500 ms off, 10 Hz) of the ulnar nerve leads to a change in excitability of primary motor cortex in normal human subjects. Motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) generated in three intrinsic hand muscles [abductor digiti minimi (ADM), first dorsal interosseous (FDI) and abductor pollicis brevis (APB)] by focal transcranial magnetic stimulation were recorded during complete relaxation before and after a period of prolonged repetitive ulnar nerve stimulation at the wrist. Transcranial magnetic stimuli were applied at seven scalp sites separated by 1 cm: the optimal scalp site for eliciting MEPs in the target muscle (FDI), three sites medial to the optimal site and three sites lateral to the optimal stimulation site. The area of the MEPs evoked in the ulnar-(FDI, ADM) but not the median-innervated (APB) muscles was increased after prolonged ulnar nerve stimulation. Centre of gravity measures demonstrated that there was no significant difference in the distribution of cortical excitability after the peripheral stimulation. F-wave responses in the intrinsic hand muscles were not altered after prolonged ulnar nerve stimulation, suggesting that the changes in MEP areas were not the result of stimulus-induced increases in the excitability of spinal motoneurones. Control experiments employing transcranial electric stimulation provided no evidence for a spinal origin for the excitability changes. These results demonstrate that in normal human subjects the excitability of the cortical projection to hand muscles can be altered in a manner determined by the peripheral stimulus applied.