Large-scale changes in cortical dynamics triggered by repetitive somatosensory electrical stimulation

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2019 May 24;16(1):59. doi: 10.1186/s12984-019-0520-1.


Background: Repetitive somatosensory electrical stimulation (SES) of forelimb peripheral nerves is a promising therapy; studies have shown that SES can improve motor function in stroke subjects with chronic deficits. However, little is known about how SES can directly modulate neural dynamics. Past studies using SES have primarily used noninvasive methods in human subjects. Here we used electrophysiological recordings from the rodent primary motor cortex (M1) to assess how SES affects neural dynamics at the level of single neurons as well as at the level of mesoscale dynamics.

Methods: We performed acute extracellular recordings in 7 intact adult Long Evans rats under ketamine-xylazine anesthesia while they received transcutaneous SES. We recorded single unit spiking and local field potentials (LFP) in the M1 contralateral to the stimulated arm. We then compared neural firing rate, spike-field coherence (SFC), and power spectral density (PSD) before and after stimulation.

Results: Following SES, the firing rate of a majority of neurons changed significantly from their respective baseline values. There was, however, a diversity of responses; some neurons increased while others decreased their firing rates. Interestingly, SFC, a measure of how a neuron's firing is coupled to mesoscale oscillatory dynamics, increased specifically in the δ-band, also known as the low frequency band (0.3- 4 Hz). This increase appeared to be driven by a change in the phase-locking of broad-spiking, putative pyramidal neurons. These changes in the low frequency range occurred without a significant change in the overall PSD.

Conclusions: Repetitive SES significantly and persistently altered the local cortical dynamics of M1 neurons, changing both firing rates as well as the SFC magnitude in the δ-band. Thus, SES altered the neural firing and coupling to ongoing mesoscale dynamics. Our study provides evidence that SES can directly modulate cortical dynamics.

Keywords: Low frequency oscillations; Motor cortex; Peripheral nerve; Somatosensory electrical stimulation (SES); Spiking dynamics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*