A magnetic transcranial conditioning stimulus given over the motor cortex at intensities below threshold for obtaining electromyographical (EMG) responses in active hand muscles can suppress responses evoked in the same muscles at rest by a suprathreshold magnetic test stimulus given 1-5 ms later. In order to define the mechanism of this inhibitory effect, we recorded descending volleys produced by single and paired magnetic transcranial stimulation of motor cortex through high cervical, epidural electrodes implanted for pain relief in two conscious subjects with no abnormality of the central nervous system. The conditioning stimulus evoked no recognisable descending activity in the spinal cord, whilst the test stimulus evoked 3-4 waves of activity (I-waves). Conditioning stimulation suppressed the size of both the descending spinal cord volleys and the EMG responses evoked by the test stimulus. Inhibition of the descending spinal volleys was most pronounced at ISI 1 ms and had disappeared by ISI 5 ms. It was evident for all components following the I1-wave, while the I1-wave itself was not inhibited at all. We conclude that a small conditioning magnetic stimulus can suppress the excitability of human motor cortex, probably by activating local corticocortical inhibitory circuits.