Noninvasive stimulation of the human corticospinal tract

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2004 Apr;96(4):1496-503. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01116.2003.


Spinal tracts can be stimulated noninvasively in human subjects by passing a high-voltage stimulus between the mastoids or by magnetic stimulation over the back of the head. The stimulus probably activates the corticospinal tract at the cervicomedullary junction (pyramidal decussation) and evokes large, short-latency motor responses in the arm muscles. These responses have a large monosynaptic component. Responses in leg muscles can be elicited by cervicomedullary junction stimulation or by stimulation over the cervical or thoracic spine. Because nerve roots are more easily activated than spinal tracts, stimulus spread to motor axons can occur. Facilitation of responses by voluntary activity confirms that the responses are evoked synaptically. Stimulation of the corticospinal tract is useful in studies of central conduction and studies of the behavior of motoneurons during different tasks. It also provides an important comparison to allow interpretation of changes in responses to stimulation of the motor cortex. The major drawback to the use of electrical stimulation of the corticospinal tract is that each stimulus is transiently painful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology
  • Magnetics
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology*