Effects of voluntary contraction on descending volleys evoked by transcranial stimulation in conscious humans


Corresponding author V. Di Lazzaro: Istituto di Neurologia, Università Cattolica, L.go A. Gemelli 8, 00168 Rome, Italy. Email: dilazzar@rm.ats.it


  • 1The spinal volleys evoked by single transcranial magnetic or electric stimulation over the cerebral motor cortex were recorded from a bipolar electrode inserted into the cervical epidural space of three conscious human subjects. These volleys were termed direct (D) and indirect (I) waves according to their latency.
  • 2We measured the size and number of volleys elicited by magnetic stimulation at various intensities with subjects at rest and during 20 or 100 % maximum contraction of the contralateral first dorsal interosseous muscle (FDI). Surface EMG activity was also recorded.
  • 3Electrical stimulation evoked a D-wave volley. Magnetic stimulation at intensities up to about 15 % of stimulator output above threshold evoked only I-waves. At higher intensities, a D-wave could be seen in two of the three subjects.
  • 4At all intensities tested, voluntary contraction increased the number and size of the I-waves, particularly during maximum contractions. However, there was only a small effect on the threshold for evoking descending activity. Voluntary contraction produced large changes in the size of EMG responses recorded from FDI.
  • 5Because the recorded epidural activity is destined for muscles other than the FDI, it is impossible to say to what extent increased activity contributes to voluntary facilitation of EMG responses. Indeed, our results suggest that the main factor responsible for enhancing EMG responses in the transition from rest to activity is likely to be increased excitability of spinal motoneurones, rather than increases in the corticospinal volley. The latter may be more important in producing EMG facilitation at different levels of voluntary contraction.