Effect of Digital Nerve Stimuli on Responses to Electrical or Magnetic Stimulation of the Human Brain
1. Reflexes were elicited in the first dorsal interosseous muscle of seven normal subjects by electrical stimulation of the digital nerves of the index finger at 3 times perceptual threshold while subjects maintained a constant voluntary contraction of the muscle. The average response in the surface-rectified electromyogram (EMG) consisted of an early inhibitory (I1) component followed by a later excitation (E2).
2. Low intensity anodal electrical or magnetic scalp stimuli were given over the motor cortex in order to elicit muscle responses within the period of the I1 and E2 reflex components.
3. Compared with control responses elicited in the absence of digital nerve stimulation, responses to electrical cortex stimulation were suppressed in the I1 period and facilitated during the E2 period of the reflex. In contrast, responses evoked by magnetic stimulation were suppressed during I1 and also for the first 10 ms or so of the E2 response. Magnetically evoked responses were facilitated during the later part of the E2 reflex.
4. Similar effects were seen when the probability of firing of single motor units was studied.
5. In three subjects, small taps were given to the abducted index finger in order to stretch the first dorsal interosseous muscle and evoke reflexes which were of comparable size to the E2 reflex evoked by digital nerve stimulation.
In contrast to the experiments in which digital nerve stimuli were given, responses evoked by magnetic stimulation over motor cortex were facilitated at all times during the course of the reflex evoked when the muscle was stretched.
6. We conclude that single electrical stimuli applied to the digital nerves can reduce for a short period the excitability of motor cortex to magnetic stimulation. This occurs at a time when the same stimulus is evoking an excitatory (E2) reflex in the average surface-rectified EMG.