Objective: Manipulation of afferent input can induce reorganization within the sensorimotor cortex which may have important functional consequences. Here we investigate whether prolonged peripheral nerve stimulation can induce reorganization within the human motor cortex.
Methods: Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, we mapped the scalp representation of the corticospinal projection to hand muscles in 8 normal subjects before and after 2h of simultaneous repetitive electrical stimulation of the ulnar and radial nerves at the wrist. Control mapping experiments were conducted in 6 subjects.
Results: Following nerve stimulation, larger motor-evoked potentials were evoked from more scalp sites. The induced changes were most apparent in first dorsal interosseous, but were also seen in other hand muscles. The increases in area of the representational maps were accompanied by changes in the location of the optimal site for evoking responses in first dorsal interosseous, and changes in the centres of gravity of the maps.
Conclusions: Prolonged afferent stimulation induces an increase in excitability of the corticospinal projection. This is accompanied by a significant shift in the centre of gravity of the stimulated muscles which we propose is evidence of a non-uniform expansion in their cortical representation.