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Keywords:

  • transcranial magnetic stimulation;
  • motor evoked potentials;
  • motor imagery;
  • primary motor cortex;
  • cortical excitability

Objectives – In order to learn more about the physiology of the motor cortex during motor imagery, we evaluated the changes in excitability of two different hand muscle representations in the primary motor cortex (M1) of both hemispheres during two imagery conditions. Materials and methods – We applied focal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over each M1, recording motor evoked potentials (MEPs) from the contralateral abductor pollicis brevis (APB) and first dorsal interosseus (FDI) muscles during rest, imagery of contralateral thumb abduction (C-APB), and imagery of ipsilateral thumb abduction (I-APB). We obtained measures of motor threshold (MT), MEP recruitment curve (MEP-rc) and F waves. Results – Motor imagery compared with rest significantly decreased the MT and increased MEPs amplitude at stimulation intensities clearly above MT in condition C-APB, but not in condition I-APB. These effects were not significantly different between right and left hemisphere. MEPs simultaneously recorded from the FDI, which was not involved in the task, did not show facilitatory effects. There were no significant changes in F wave amplitude during motor imagery compared with rest. Conclusions – Imagery of unilateral simple movements is associated with increased excitability only of a highly specific representation in the contralateral M1 and does not differ between hemispheres.