Neural diseases are often associated with respiratory muscle disorders. Assessment of the motor pathway from the central nervous system to the diaphragm is therefore highly clinically relevant from a diagnosis and follow-up point of view. Cortical magnetic stimulation (CxMS) combined with surface diaphragm electromyogram (EMGdi) has to date been limited in this application by the need of an underlying voluntary contraction to obtain a diaphragm response (facilitation). This study was performed to verify this point with high-powered stimulators and to describe the pattern of diaphragm response to CxMS. In nine subjects, EMGdi was compared with EMG of the abductor pollicis brevis (APB). CxMS was applied on relaxed muscles. The effects of its decreasing intensity and those of a voluntary contraction were studied. In three subjects, transdiaphragmatic pressure was also measured. CxMS consistently provoked a contraction of the relaxed diaphragm (16.06 +/- 0.64 ms, mean +/- SD). Decreasing stimulation intensity decreased the amplitude and increased the latency of this response. Underlying contractions had opposite effects. Respective behaviors of the diaphragm and APB were similar. It is concluded that CxMS gives access to central motor conduction to the diaphragm without the need for subject cooperation.