Electrical stimulation over the human vertebral column: which neural elements are excited?

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1986 Jun;63(6):582-9. doi: 10.1016/0013-4694(86)90145-8.


Supramaximal percutaneous electrical stimuli applied over the human cervical vertebral column produce maximal compound muscle action potentials (CMAPs) in abductor digiti minimi. It is important to know which neural elements are excited by these stimuli and experiments were performed to answer this question. With stimulating electrodes placed progressively lateral to the midline, submaximal CMAPs with the same latency are produced. With shocks over the cervical vertebrae in the midline, the threshold for excitation of arm muscles is much lower than for excitation of leg muscles. Comparison of conduction time from the cervical column to more distal sites on the ulnar nerve by direct measurement and by F wave latency determination shows that the latter exceeds the former by 1.6 msec. Collision experiments in which paired shocks were given at the wrist and Erb's point or the wrist and cervical column showed that recovery from blocking as interstimulus interval lengthened was similar for the two sites, and that it was possible to detect F waves from the proximal stimulus. The latency of CMAPs evoked from midline surface stimuli was identical to that from a needle stimulus near the C8 root. It is concluded that electrical stimuli applied over the cervical vertebrae in the midline excite the motor roots at their exit from the spinal canal. This finding has implications for clinical studies of pyramidal tract and proximal peripheral nerve conduction.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adult
  • Axilla / injuries
  • Elbow / injuries
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Neural Conduction
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Spine / innervation*
  • Ulnar Nerve / physiology
  • Wrist / innervation