The transcranial magnetic stimulation motor threshold depends on the distance from coil to underlying cortex: a replication in healthy adults comparing two methods of assessing the distance to cortex

Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Mar 1;49(5):454-9. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(00)01039-8.


Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a handheld electrified copper coil against the scalp produces a powerful and rapidly oscillating magnetic field, which in turn induces electrical currents in the brain. The amount of electrical energy needed for TMS to induce motor movement (called the motor threshold [MT]), varies widely across individuals. The intensity of TMS is dosed relative to the MT. Kozel et al observed in a depressed cohort that MT increases as a function of distance from coil to cortex. This article examines this relationship in a healthy cohort and compares the two methods of assessing distance to cortex. Seventeen healthy adults had their TMS MT determined and marked with a fiducial. Magnetic resonance images showed the fiducials marking motor cortex, allowing researchers to measure distance from scalp to motor and prefontal cortex using two methods: 1) measuring a line from scalp to the nearest cortex and 2) sampling the distance from scalp to cortex of two 18-mm-square areas. Confirming Kozel's previous finding, we observe that motor threshold increases as distance to motor cortex increased for both methods of measuring distance and that no significant correlation exists between MT and prefontal cortex distance. Distance from TMS coil to motor cortex is an important determinant of MT in healthy and depressed adults. Distance to prefontal cortex is not correlated with MT, raising questions about the common practice of dosing prefontal stimulation using MT determined over motor cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electromagnetic Phenomena / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*