Transcranial magnetic stimulation reveals dissociable mechanisms for global versus selective corticomotor suppression underlying the stopping of action

Cereb Cortex. 2012 Feb;22(2):363-71. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr112. Epub 2011 Jun 10.


Stopping an initiated response is an essential function, investigated in many studies with go/no-go and stop-signal paradigms. These standard tests require rapid action cancellation. This appears to be achieved by a suppression mechanism that has "global" effects on corticomotor excitability (i.e., affecting task-irrelevant muscles). By contrast, stopping action in everyday life may require selectivity (i.e., targeting a specific response tendency without affecting concurrent action). We hypothesized that while standard stopping engages global suppression, behaviorally selective stopping engages a selective suppression mechanism. Accordingly, we measured corticomotor excitability of the task-irrelevant leg using transcranial magnetic stimulation while subjects stopped the hand. Experiment 1 showed that for standard (i.e., nonselective) stopping, the task-irrelevant leg was suppressed. Experiment 2 showed that for behaviorally selective stopping, there was no mean leg suppression. Experiment 3 directly compared behaviorally nonselective and selective stopping. Leg suppression occurred only in the behaviorally nonselective condition. These results argue that global and selective suppression mechanisms are dissociable. Participants may use a global suppression mechanism when speed is stressed; however, they may recruit a more selective suppression mechanism when selective stopping is behaviorally necessary and preparatory information is available. We predict that different fronto-basal-ganglia pathways underpin these different suppression mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Decision Making
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Young Adult