Ongoing brain activity has been implicated in the modulation of cortical excitability. The combination of electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in a real-time triggered setup is a novel method for testing hypotheses about the relationship between spontaneous neuronal oscillations, cortical excitability, and synaptic plasticity. For this method, a reliable real-time extraction of the neuronal signal of interest from scalp EEG with high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is of crucial importance. Here we compare individually tailored spatial filters as computed by spatial-spectral decomposition (SSD), which maximizes SNR in a frequency band of interest, against established local C3-centered Laplacian filters for the extraction of the sensorimotor μ-rhythm. Single-pulse TMS over the left primary motor cortex was synchronized with the surface positive or negative peak of the respective extracted signal, and motor evoked potentials (MEP) were recorded with electromyography (EMG) of a contralateral hand muscle. Both extraction methods led to a comparable degree of MEP amplitude modulation by phase of the sensorimotor μ-rhythm at the time of stimulation. This could be relevant for targeting other brain regions with no working benchmark such as the local C3-centered Laplacian filter, as sufficient SNR is an important prerequisite for reliable real-time single-trial detection of EEG features.
Keywords: EEG-TMS; brain-state-dependent stimulation; corticospinal excitability; sensorimotor oscillations; spatial filtering.