Physiological motor asymmetry in human handedness: evidence from transcranial magnetic stimulation

Brain Res. 1994 Feb 14;636(2):270-6. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(94)91026-x.


We hypothesized that human handedness might be associated with measurable differences in the excitability of the motor system. We compared the thresholds for electromyographic activation of the left and right abductor pollicis brevis (APB) and biceps muscles in 30 left-handers and 30 right-handers, by varying the direction of a brief monophasic pulse in a circular electromagnetic coil centered over the vertex of the scalp. In right-handers, we found that the threshold for activation of muscles in the right arm was lower than the threshold for activation of corresponding muscles in the left arm. In left-handers, the reverse was true. Threshold asymmetry was influenced significantly by the consistency with which each subject used the writing hand to perform other motor tasks, and was not significant between non-consistent left-handers and right-handers. Our results indicate that human handedness, and in particular, consistency of hand preference, are associated with lateralized differences in the excitability of motor system projections activated by transcranial magnetic stimulation. Our findings might reflect physiological differences in corticospinal tract function or cortical motor representation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*