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Keywords:

  • calcium-binding proteins;
  • cortical inhibition;
  • GABA synthesis;
  • rTMS;
  • sensory associative learning

Abstract

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can modulate cortical excitability in a stimulus-frequency-dependent manner. Two kinds of theta burst stimulation (TBS) [intermittent TBS (iTBS) and continuous TBS (cTBS)] modulate human cortical excitability differently, with iTBS increasing it and cTBS decreasing it. In rats, we recently showed that this is accompanied by changes in the cortical expression of proteins related to the activity of inhibitory neurons. Expression levels of the calcium-binding protein parvalbumin (PV) and of the 67-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD67) were strongly reduced following iTBS, but not cTBS, whereas both increased expression of the 65-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase. In the present study, to investigate possible functional consequences, we applied iTBS and cTBS to rats learning a tactile discrimination task. Conscious rats received either verum or sham rTMS prior to the task. Finally, to investigate how rTMS and learning effects interact, protein expression was determined for cortical areas directly involved in the task and for those either not, or indirectly, involved. We found that iTBS, but not cTBS, improved learning and strongly reduced cortical PV and GAD67 expression. However, the combination of learning and iTBS prevented this effect in those cortical areas involved in the task, but not in unrelated areas. We conclude that the improved learning found following iTBS is a result of the interaction of two effects, possibly in a homeostatic manner: a general weakening of inhibition mediated by the fast-spiking interneurons, and re-established activity in those neurons specifically involved in the learning task, leading to enhanced contrast between learning-induced and background activity.