Theta-burst stimulation-induced plasticity over primary somatosensory cortex changes somatosensory temporal discrimination in healthy humans

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32979. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032979. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Background: The somatosensory temporal discrimination threshold (STDT) measures the ability to perceive two stimuli as being sequential. Precisely how the single cerebral structures contribute in controlling the STDT is partially known and no information is available about whether STDT can be modulated by plasticity-inducing protocols.

Methodology/principal findings: To investigate how the cortical and cerebellar areas contribute to the STDT we used transcranial magnetic stimulation and a neuronavigation system. We enrolled 18 healthy volunteers and 10 of these completed all the experimental sessions, including the control experiments. STDT was measured on the left hand before and after applying continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) on the right primary somatosensory area (S1), pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA), right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and left cerebellar hemisphere. We then investigated whether intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) on the right S1 improved the STDT. After right S1 cTBS, STDT values increased whereas after iTBS to the same cortical site they decreased. cTBS over the DLPFC and left lateral cerebellum left the STDT statistically unchanged. cTBS over the pre-SMA also left the STDT statistically unchanged, but it increased the number of errors subjects made in distinguishing trials testing a single stimulus and those testing paired stimuli.

Conclusions/significance: Our findings obtained by applying TBS to the cortical areas involved in processing sensory discrimination show that the STDT is encoded in S1, possibly depends on intrinsic S1 neural circuit properties, and can be modulated by plasticity-inducing TBS protocols delivered over S1. Our findings, giving further insight into mechanisms involved in somatosensory temporal discrimination, help interpret STDT abnormalities in movement disorders including dystonia and Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*