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Keywords:

  • auditory cortex;
  • human;
  • motor cortex;
  • SMA;
  • thalamus

Abstract

Recent studies indicate that the cortical effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may not be localized to the site of stimulation, but spread to other distant areas. Using echo-planar imaging with blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) contrast at 3 Tesla, we measured MRI signal changes in cortical and subcortical motor regions during high-frequency (3.125 Hz) repetitive TMS (rTMS) of the left sensorimotor cortex (M1/S1) at intensities above and below the active motor threshold in healthy humans. The supra- and subthreshold nature of the TMS pulses was confirmed by simultaneous electromyographic monitoring of a hand muscle. Suprathreshold rTMS activated a network of primary and secondary cortical motor regions including M1/S1, supplementary motor area, dorsal premotor cortex, cingulate motor area, the putamen and thalamus. Subthreshold rTMS elicited no MRI-detectable activity in the stimulated M1/S1, but otherwise led to a similar activation pattern as obtained for suprathreshold stimulation though at reduced intensity. In addition, we observed activations within the auditory system, including the transverse and superior temporal gyrus, inferior colliculus and medial geniculate nucleus. The present findings support the notion that re-afferent feedback from evoked movements represents the dominant input to the motor system via M1 during suprathreshold stimulation. The BOLD MRI changes in motor areas distant from the site of subthreshold stimulation are likely to originate from altered synaptic transmissions due to induced excitability changes in M1/S1. They reflect the capability of rTMS to target both local and remote brain regions as tightly connected constituents of a cortical and subcortical network.