Motor cortex excitability correlates with an anxiety-related personality trait

Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Sep 1;50(5):377-82. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(01)01210-0.


Background: In an earlier study comparing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) patients to psychiatrically screened normals, we found lowered motor evoked potential (MEP) threshold to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and decreased intracortical inhibition in OCD. We sought to determine whether this pattern was specific to OCD.

Methods: We measured the threshold and amplitude of MEPs to single and paired (subthreshold-suprathreshold; 3, 4, 10, 15 msec intervals) TMS in 46 healthy volunteers (23 women, 23 men) who were given the NEO-PI-R personality inventory. Nineteen of the men also received cognitive and motor tests.

Results: The paired-pulse conditioned/unconditioned MEP amplitude ratios correlated with Neuroticism (N), a stable measure of trait-level anxiety and other negative emotions, in the whole sample (r = 0.48; p = 0.0006), and in the men (r = 0.63; p = 0.0009). There were no other significant correlations.

Conclusions: This relationship reflects a factor that contributes to both personality and cortical regulation. It was not statistically significant in women, probably because of confounding hormonal influences on excitability. Decreased intracortical inhibition may be related more to trait anxiety and depression, which are high in OCD, than to OCD itself. However, the MEP threshold (significantly lowered in OCD) was unrelated to N.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Personality Inventory*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology