Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) applied over the primary motor cortex (M1), elicits motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) in contralateral limb muscles which are valuable indicators of corticospinal excitability (CSE) at the time of stimulation. So far, most studies have used single-coil TMS over one M1, yielding MEPs in muscles of a single limb-usually the hand. However, tracking CSE in the two hands simultaneously would be useful in many contexts. We recently showed that, in the resting state, double-coil stimulation of the two M1 with a 1 ms inter-pulse interval (double-coil1 ms TMS) elicits MEPs in both hands that are comparable to MEPs obtained using single-coil TMS. To further evaluate this new technique, we considered the MEPs elicited by double-coil1 ms TMS in an instructed-delay choice reaction time task where a prepared response has to be withheld until an imperative signal is displayed. Single-coil TMS studies have repetitively shown that in this type of task, the motor system is transiently inhibited during the delay period, as evident from the broad suppression of MEP amplitudes. Here, we aimed at investigating whether a comparable inhibitory effect can be observed with MEPs elicited using double-coil1 ms TMS. To do so, we compared the amplitude as well as the coefficient of variation (CV) of MEPs produced by double-coil1 ms or single-coil TMS during action preparation. We observed that MEPs were suppressed (smaller amplitude) and often less variable (smaller CV) during the delay period compared to baseline. Importantly, these effects were equivalent whether single-coil or double-coil1 ms TMS was used. This suggests that double-coil1 ms TMS is a reliable tool to assess CSE, not only when subjects are at rest, but also when they are involved in a task, opening new research horizons for scientists interested in the corticospinal correlates of human behavior.
Keywords: action preparation; coefficient of variation; corticospinal excitability; inhibition; motor-evoked potentials; primary motor cortex; transcranial magnetic stimulation.