We studied the changes in motor pathway excitability induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex, using paired stimuli (conditioning and test stimulus) and varying interstimulus interval (ISI). The effects induced depended on the stimulus intensity. At a low intensity, there was inhibition of the response to the test stimulus at ISIs of 5-40 msec, followed by facilitation at ISIs of 50-90 msec. At a high intensity, there was facilitation at ISIs of 25-50 msec, followed by inhibition at ISIs of 60-150 msec and, occasionally, by another phase of facilitation at ISIs of more than 200 msec. Only tentative explanations are currently possible for these effects: the inhibition observed at low intensities and short ISIs may be due to activation of cortical inhibitory mechanisms. The facilitation that follows may arise from the coincidence of various factors that transiently increase the excitability in alpha motoneurons. The early facilitation observed at high intensities seems to be a consequence of a rise in cortical excitability induced by the conditioning stimulus, causing an increase in the number or size, or both, of descending volleys from the test stimulus. The profound inhibition that follows probably results from a combination of both segmental and suprasegmental inhibitory mechanisms.