Determining the types of descending waves from transcranial magnetic stimulation measured with conditioned H-reflexes in humans

Eur J Neurosci. 2021 Aug;54(3):5038-5046. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15308. Epub 2021 May 17.


Non-invasive techniques are scarce with which human (motor) cortical mechanisms can be investigated. In a series of previous experiments, we have applied an advanced form of conditioning technique with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and peripheral nerve stimulation by which excitability changes at the laminar level in the primary motor cortex can be estimated. This method builds on the assumption that the first of subsequent corticospinal waves from TMS which is assessed with H-reflexes (called early facilitation) results from indirect excitation of corticospinal neurons in motor cortex (I-wave) and not direct excitation of corticospinal axons (D-wave). So far, we have not provided strong experimental evidence that this is actually the case. In the present study, we therefore compared temporal differences of the early facilitation between transcranial magnetic and electrical stimulation (TES). TES is known to excite the axons of corticospinal neurons. TES in our study caused a temporal shift of the early facilitation of H-reflexes in all subjects compared to TMS, which indicates that the early facilitation with TMS is indeed produced by an I-wave. Additionally, we investigated temporal shifts of the early facilitation with different TMS intensities and two TMS coils. It has long been known that TMS with higher intensities can induce a D-wave. Accordingly, we found that TMS with an intensity of 150% of resting motor threshold compared to 130%/110% results in a temporal shift of the early facilitation, indicating the presence of a D-wave. This effect was dependent on the coil type.

Keywords: TMS; corticospinal; direct and indirect volleys; non-invasive; primary motor cortex; spinal motoneurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor
  • H-Reflex
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex*
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Pyramidal Tracts
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*