We applied trains of focal, rapid-rate transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to the motor cortex of 14 healthy volunteers with recording of the EMG from the contralateral abductor pollicis brevis, extensor carpi radialis, biceps brachii and deltoid muscles. Modulation of the amplitude of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) produced in the target muscle during rTMS showed a pattern of inhibitory and excitatory effects which depended on the rTMS frequency and intensity. With the magnetic coil situated over the optimal scalp position for activating the abductor pollicis brevis, rTMS led to spread of excitation, as evident from the induction of progressively larger MEPs in the other muscles. The number of pulses inducing this spread of excitation decreased with increasing rTMS frequency and intensity. Latency of the MEPs produced in the other muscles during the spread of excitation was significantly longer than that produced by single-pulse TMS applied to the optimal scalp positions for their activation. The difference in MEP latency could be explained by a delay in intracortical conduction along myelinated cortico-cortical pathways. Following rTMS, a 3-4 min period of increased excitability was demonstrated by an increase in the amplitude of MEPs produced in the target muscles by single-pulse TMS. Nevertheless, repeated rTMS trains applied 1 min apart led to similar modulation of the responses and to spread of excitation after approximately the same number of pulses. This suggests that the spread might be due to the breakdown of inhibitory connections or the recruitment of excitatory pathways, whereas the post-stimulation facilitation may be due to a transient increase in the efficacy of excitatory synapses.