Modulation of interhemispheric inhibition by volitional motor activity: an ipsilateral silent period study


Corresponding author M. Cincotta: U.O. di Neurologia, Azienda Sanitaria di Firenze, Ospedale Piero Palagi, Viale Michelangiolo, 41, 50125 Firenze, Italy.  Email:


Brief interruption of voluntary EMG in a hand muscle by focal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the ipsilateral primary motor cortex (M1), the so-called ipsilateral silent period (ISP), is a measure of interhemispheric motor inhibition. However, little is known about how volitional motor activity would modulate the ISP. Here we tested in 30 healthy adults to what extent and under what conditions voluntary activation of the stimulated right M1 by moving the left hand strengthens interhemispheric inhibition as indexed by an enhancement of the ISP area in the maximally contracting right first dorsal interosseous (FDI). Left index finger abduction, already at low levels of contraction, significantly enhanced the ISP compared to left hand at rest. Even imagination of left index finger movement enhanced the ISP compared to rest or mental calculation. This enhancement occurred in the absence of motor-evoked potential amplitude modulation in the left FDI, thus excluding a non-specific contribution from an increase in right M1 corticospinal excitability. Contraction of the left extensor indicis, but not contraction of more proximal left upper limb or left or right lower limb muscles also enhanced the ISP. A reaction time experiment showed that the ISP enhancement developed at a late stage of movement preparation just before or at movement onset. Interhemispheric inhibition of the motor-evoked potential as tested by a bifocal paired-pulse TMS protocol and thought to be mediated via a neuronal circuit different to the ISP was not enhanced when tested under identical motor task conditions. Finally, ISP enhancement by contraction of the left FDI correlated inversely with EMG mirror activity in the right FDI during phasic abductions of the left index finger. Our findings strongly suggest that voluntary M1 activation by real or imagined movement of the contralateral hand increases interhemispheric motor inhibition of the opposite M1. This phenomenon shows substantial topographical, temporal and neuronal circuit specificity, and has functional significance as it probably plays a pivotal role in suppressing mirror activity.