Short latency inhibition of human hand motor cortex by somatosensory input from the hand


Corresponding author
J. C. Rothwell: MRC Human Movement and Balance Unit, Institute of Neurology and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


  • 1EMG responses evoked in hand muscles by transcranial stimulation over the motor cortex were conditioned by a single motor threshold electrical stimulus to the median nerve at the wrist in a total of ten healthy subjects and in five patients who had electrodes implanted chronically into the cervical epidural space.
  • 2The median nerve stimulus suppressed responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in relaxed or active muscle. The minimum interval between the stimuli at which this occurred was 19 ms. A similar effect was seen if electrical stimulation was applied to the digital nerves of the first two fingers.
  • 3Median or digital nerve stimulation could suppress the responses evoked in active muscle by transcranial electrical stimulation over the motor cortex, but the effect was much less than with magnetic stimulation.
  • 4During contraction without TMS, both types of conditioning stimuli evoked a cutaneomuscular reflex that began with a short period of inhibition. This started about 5 ms after the inhibition of responses evoked by TMS.
  • 5Recordings in the patients showed that median nerve stimulation reduced the size and number of descending corticospinal volleys evoked by magnetic stimulation.
  • 6We conclude that mixed or cutaneous input from the hand can suppress the excitability of the motor cortex at short latency. This suppression may contribute to the initial inhibition of the cutaneomuscular reflex. Reduced spinal excitability in this period could account for the mild inhibition of responses to electrical brain stimulation.