Which elements are excited in electrical stimulation of mammalian central nervous system: a review

Brain Res. 1975 Nov 21;98(3):417-40. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(75)90364-9.


(1) There are data on the amount of current necessary to stimulate a myelinated fiber or cell body and/or its axon a given distance away from a monopolar electrode over the entire range of practical interest for intracranial stimulation. Data do not exist for other electrode configurations. (2) Currents from a monopolar cathode of more than 8 times threshold may block action potentials in axons. Therefore, only axons lying in a shell around the electrode are stimulated. Elements very close to the electrode may not be stimulated. Close to an electrode small diameter axons may be stimulated and larger ones may not be. (3) Most, and perhaps all, CNS myelinated fibers have chronaxies of 50-100 musec. When gray matter is stimulated, the chronaxie is often 200-700 musec. It is not clear what is being stimulated in this case. Current-duration relations should be determined for many more responses. (4) There are no current-distance or current-duration data for central finely myelinated or unmyelinated fibers. (5) It takes less cathodal current than anodal to stimulate a myelinated fiber passing by a monopolar electrode. When a monopolar electrode is near a cell body, on the opposite side from the axon, often the lowest threshold is anodal, but sometimes cathodal. Stimulation of a neuron near its cell body is not well understood, but in many cases the axon is probably stimulated. (6) Orientation of cell body and axons with respect to current flow is important. For an axon it is the component of the voltage gradient parallel to the fiber that is important. (7) The pia has a significant resistance and capacitance. Gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid have different resistivities, which affect patterns of current flow. (8) More is known about stimulation of mammalian CNS than most workers are aware of. Much of what is unknown seems solvable with current methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Chronaxy
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology
  • Neural Conduction
  • Refractory Period, Electrophysiological
  • Time Factors