Associative motor cortex plasticity: direct evidence in humans

Cereb Cortex. 2009 Oct;19(10):2326-30. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn255. Epub 2009 Jan 28.


Previous studies have shown that paired associative stimulation (PAS) protocol, in which peripheral nerve stimuli are followed by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex at intervals that produce an approximately synchronous activation of cortical networks, enhances the amplitude of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) evoked by cortical stimulation. Indirect data support the hypothesis that the enhancement of MEPs produced by PAS involves long-term potentiation like changes in cortical synapses. The aim of present paper was to investigate the central nervous system level at which PAS produces its effects. We recorded corticospinal descending volleys evoked by single pulse TMS of the motor cortex before and after PAS in 4 conscious subjects who had an electrode implanted in the cervical epidural space for the control of pain. The descending volleys evoked by TMS represent postsynaptic activity of corticospinal neurones that can provide indirect information about the effectiveness of synaptic inputs to these neurones. PAS significantly enhanced the amplitude of later descending waves, whereas the earliest descending wave was not significantly modified by PAS. The present results show that PAS may increase the amplitude of later corticospinal volleys, consistent with a cortical origin of the effect of PAS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pain, Intractable / physiopathology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation