The effect of benzodiazepines and flumazenil on motor cortical excitability in the human brain

Brain Res. 1999 Jan 9;815(2):192-9. doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(98)01164-0.


In the present study, the effects of benzodiazepines (diazepam) were evaluated in terms of cortical excitability changes, as tested with transcranial magnetic simulation (TMS). In particular, analyzed were drug-induced changes regarding two selected parameters of TMS: (1) the cortical excitability threshold and (2) the silent period duration (SP). For this purpose, we evaluated the effects of long-term therapy with diazepam in the patients affected by anxiety disorders and the changes induced by single oral doses of diazepam in both healthy controls and patients. In addition, we tested cortical excitability changes in two 'extreme conditions' where a considerable concentration of serum benzodiazepine-like activity was reached, as represented by diazepam overdose and idiopathic recurrent stupor (IRS). In both groups of patients, a significant increment of motor threshold was found, while in the overdose patients, the SP was also increased. The administration of flumazenil in these two conditions was followed by a prompt reversal effect, consisting of a return to normal cortical excitability parameters. The long-term usage of diazepam in patients with anxiety disorders is associated with significantly increased threshold; the increased value of these parameters was temporarily further enhanced by the administration of a single oral dose of diazepam, which, in normal control subjects, is not associated with changes of cortical excitability. The results of this study reveal that different physio-pathological conditions induced by the influence of benzodiazepine and its antagonist are reflected in excitability changes which attest to the involvement and modification of cortical GABAergic activity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Benzodiazepines / administration & dosage*
  • Coma / chemically induced
  • Coma / physiopathology
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / drug effects*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Flumazenil / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Magnetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / drug effects*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Recurrence


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Flumazenil