Transcranial electrical stimulation of the motor cortex in man: further evidence for the site of activation

J Physiol. 1994 Nov 15;481 ( Pt 1)(Pt 1):243-50. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1994.sp020435.


1. The motor cortex was stimulated electrically (vertex anode; cathode 6 cm lateral) in neurologically normal subjects undergoing surgery for scoliosis, and the evoked corticospinal volleys were recorded from the spinal cord using epidural electrodes. 2. Stimuli > 330 V produced a complex D-wave volley containing three separate peaks, with high-threshold components, 0.8 ms (D2) and 1.6 ms (D3), in advance of the lowest-threshold component (D1). As stimuli increased up to 1500 V, D3 replaced the later components completely, but there was no further latency 'jump'. 3. Brainstem stimulation using electrodes over each mastoid process produced a descending volley that had the same latencies as D3. At threshold, stimulation of the brainstem or spinal cord attenuated the D wave evoked by simultaneous cortical stimulation. 4. It is concluded that transcranial electrical stimulation of the motor cortex at high intensities can access corticospinal neurones at the pyramidal decussation, and that stimulation of the brainstem (and the spinal cord) preferentially accesses corticospinal axons. At threshold, motor cortex stimulation probably activates corticospinal neurones at or near the cerebral cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Child
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology