Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the human primary motor cortex (MI) evokes motor responses in the contralateral limb muscles. The latencies and amplitudes of those responses depend on the direction of induced current in the brain by the stimuli (Mills et al. 1992, Werhahn et al. 1994). This observation suggests that different neural elements might be activated by the differently directed induced currents. Using a figure-of-eight-shaped coil, which induces current with a certain direction, we analyzed the effect of direction of stimulating current on the latencies of responses to TMS in normal subjects. The latencies were measured from surface electromyographic responses of the first dorsal interosseous muscles and the peaks in the peristimulus time histograms (PSTHs) of single motor units from the same muscles. The coil was placed over the MI, with eight different directions each separated by 45 degrees. Stimulus intensity was adjusted just above the motor threshold while subjects made a weak tonic voluntary contraction, so that we can analyse the most readily elicited descending volley in the pyramidal tracts. In most subjects, TMS with medially and anteriorly directed current in the brain produced responses or a peak that occurred some 1.5 ms later than those to anodal electrical stimulation. In contrast, TMS with laterally and posteriorly directed current produced responses or a peak that occurred about 4.5 ms later. There was a single peak in most of PSTHs under the above stimulation condition, whereas there were occasionally two peaks under the transitional current directions between the above two groups. These results suggest that TMS with medially and anteriorly directed current in the brain readily elicits I1 waves, whereas that with laterally and posteriorly directed current preferentially elicits I3 waves. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies indicated that this direction was related to the course of the central sulcus. TMS with induced current flowing forward relative to the central sulcus preferentially elicited I1 waves and that flowing backward elicited I3 waves. Our finding of the dependence of preferentially activated I waves on the current direction in the brain suggests that different sets of cortical neurons are responsible for different I waves, and are contrarily oriented. The present method using a figure-of-eight-shaped coil must enable us to study physiological characteristics of each I wave separately and, possibly, analyse different neural elements in MI, since it activates a certain I wave selectively without D waves or other I waves.