Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of motor cortex produces a series of descending volleys known as D (direct) and I (indirect) waves. In the present study, we questioned whether spinal H-reflexes can be used to dissect D waves and early and late I waves from TMS. We therefore probed H-reflex facilitation at arrival times of D and I waves at the spinal level and thereby changed TMS parameters that have previously been shown to have selective effects on evoked D and different I waves. We changed TMS intensity and current direction and applied a double-pulse paradigm known as short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI). Experiments were conducted in flexor carpi radialis (FCR) in the arm and soleus (SOL) in the leg. There were two major findings: 1) in FCR, H-reflex facilitation showed characteristic modulations with altered TMS parameters that correspond to the changes of evoked D and I waves; and 2) H-reflexes in SOL did not, possibly because of increased interference from other spinal circuits. Therefore, the most significant outcome of this study is that in FCR, H-reflexes combined with TMS seem to be a useful technique to dissect TMS-induced D and I waves. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Questions that relate to corticospinal function in pathophysiology and movement control demand sophisticated techniques to provide information about corticospinal mechanisms. We introduce a noninvasive electrophysiological technique that may be useful in describing such mechanisms in more detail by dissecting D and I waves from transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Based on the combination of spinal H-reflexes and TMS in the flexor carpi radialis muscle, the technique was shown to measure selective effects on D and I waves from changing TMS parameters.
Keywords: TMS; motor cortex; spinal H-reflex; transcranial magnetic stimulation.