Lorazepam-induced effects on silent period and corticomotor excitability

Exp Brain Res. 2006 Sep;173(4):603-11. doi: 10.1007/s00221-006-0402-1. Epub 2006 Mar 9.


TMS studies on the CNS effects of benzodiazepines have provided contradictory results. The objective of this study is to describe the effects of lorazepam on silent period (SP) and corticomotor excitability. Twelve healthy male subjects (median age 35 years) were studied at baseline, following i.v. lorazepam administration and after reversal of the benzodiazepine effects with i.v. flumazenil. Lorazepam was given at a low-dose in one subject (0.0225 mg/kg bolus + 2 microg/kg/h infusion) and at a high-dose (0.045 mg/kg bolus + 2.6 microg/kg/h infusion) in the rest. Threshold (Thr) was measured at 1% steps. SPs were investigated with two complementary methods. First, SPs were elicited using a wide range of stimulus intensities (SIs) (from 5 to 100% maximum SI at 5% increments). At each SI, four SPs were obtained and the average value of SP duration was used to construct a stimulus/response (S/R) curve of SI versus SP .The resulting S/R curves were then fitted to a Boltzman function, the best-fit values of which were statistically compared for each experimental condition (i.e., baseline vs. lorazepam vs. flumazenil). Second, a large number of SPs (n=100) was elicited during each of the three experimental conditions using blocks of four stimuli with an intensity alternating between MT and 200% MT. This method was employed so as to reveal the dynamic, time-varying effects of lorazepam and flumazenil on SP duration at two stimulus intensity (SI) levels. MEP recruitment curves were constructed at rest and during activation and fitted to a Boltzman function the best-fit values of which were statistically compared for each experimental condition. Lorazepam at a low dose did not affect Thr, SP, or the active MEP recruitment curves. The high dose also had no effect on Thr and the active MEPs whereas the resting MEP recruitment curves were depressed post-lorazepam at the higher range of stimulus intensities. With regard to SP, the Max value of the S/R curve decreased from 251+/-4.6 ms at baseline to 215.2+/-3.1 ms post-lorazepam (P<0.01). V50 also decreased significantly (from 47.92+/-0.9% to 43.73+/-0.81%, P<0.01) whereas there was no significant change regarding slope and SP Thr. The statistical analysis of the SP S/R curves as well as the study of SPs at two SI levels revealed that lorazepam reduced SP duration when high intensity stimuli were used (>60%). In contrast, at low SIs a small increase in SP duration was noted post-drug. Enhancement of GABAergic inhibition by lorazepam results in a reduction of SP duration when high SIs is used. At the lower range of SIs, a small but statistically significant increase in SP duration is observed. The kinetic behavior of this phenomenon as well as the possible underlying mechanisms are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / drug effects
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Flumazenil / administration & dosage
  • Flumazenil / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Lorazepam / administration & dosage
  • Lorazepam / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Reaction Time


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Flumazenil
  • Lorazepam