Changes in afferent input can alter the excitability of intracortical inhibitory systems. For example, using paired transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), both electrical digital stimulation and muscle vibration have been shown to reduce short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI). The effects following muscle vibration are confined to the corticospinal projection to the vibrated muscles. The results following digital stimulation are less clear and the relative timing of the cutaneous stimulation and TMS is critical. Here we investigated further whether changes in SICI following digit stimulation exhibit topographic specificity. Eleven normal subjects were investigated (age 28.2±7.5 years, mean±SD). Electromyographic recordings were made from the right first dorsal interosseous (FDI), abductor digiti minimi (ADM) and abductor pollicis brevis (APB) muscles. SICI was measured, with and without preceding electrical digit II or digit V cutaneous stimulation. The interval between the digital nerve stimulus and test magnetic stimulus was independently set for each subject and established by subtracting the onset latency of the motor evoked potential (MEP) from the latency of the E2 component of the cutaneomuscular reflex. Therefore, measures of intracortical excitability were made at a time at which it is known that cutaneous input is capable of modulating cortical excitability. Single digital nerve stimuli applied to digit II significantly reduced SICI in FDI but not in ADM. Single digital nerve stimuli applied to digit V significantly reduced SICI in ADM but not in FDI or APB. There was a more generalised effect on intracortical facilitation (ICF) with both digit II and digit V stimulation significantly increasing ICF in FDI and ADM. Digital stimulation (either DII or DV) did not significantly affect SICI/ICF in APB. These findings show that appropriately timed cutaneous stimuli are capable of modulating SICI in a topographically specific manner. We suggest that the selective decrease in SICI seen with cutaneous stimulation may be important for focusing of muscle activation during motor tasks.
Motor cortexCutaneous inputCortical inhibitionHuman