Objective: To study the effect of different types of unilateral pinch grips on excitability of the ipsilateral motor cortex.
Methods: In 9 healthy volunteers, transcranial magnetic stimuli (TMS) were applied over one motor cortex while the subjects performed either phasic or tonic ipsilateral pinch grips with different force levels (range 1-40% maximum voluntary contraction, MVC). Motor evoked potentials (MEP) were recorded from the relaxed contralateral first dorsal interosseous muscle (FDI) and were compared to MEPs obtained during muscle relaxation of both hands. In additional experiments, transcranial electrical stimuli (TES) were administered and F waves were recorded after electrical stimulation of the ulnar nerve.
Results: Phasic pinch grips with low force (1 and 2% MVC) induced a significant decrease of TMS-induced MEP amplitudes. The effect lasted for about 100 ms after reaching the force level and was similar for both right and left-handed pinch grips. TES-induced MEPs and F waves remained unchanged. In contrast, tonic contractions (20 and 40% MVC) enhanced MEPs in the homologous FDI.
Conclusions: Phasic pinch grips with low force inhibit the motor cortex responsible for the contralateral homologous hand muscle. This effect, which is probably mediated transcallosally, might act at the level of the motor cortex.