Research Article

Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 211-219

First online:

Hemispheric asymmetry and somatotopy of afferent inhibition in healthy humans

  • R. C. G. HelmichAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
  • , T. BäumerAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Hamburg University Hospital Email author 
  • , H. R. SiebnerAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Christian-Albrechts-University
  • , B. R. BloemAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
  • , A. MünchauAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, Hamburg University Hospital

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A conditioning electrical stimulus to a digital nerve can inhibit the motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) in adjacent hand muscles elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to the contralateral primary motor cortex (M1) when given 25–50 ms before the TMS pulse. This is referred to as short-latency afferent inhibition (SAI). We studied inter-hemispheric differences (Experiment 1) and within-limb somatotopy (Experiment 2) of SAI in healthy right-handers. In Experiment 1, conditioning electrical pulses were applied to the right or left index finger (D2) and MEPs were recorded from relaxed first dorsal interosseus (FDI) and abductor digiti minimi (ADM) muscles ipsilateral to the conditioning stimulus. We found that SAI was more pronounced in right hand muscles. In Experiment 2, electrical stimulation was applied to the right D2 and MEPs were recorded from ipsilateral FDI, extensor digitorum communis (EDC) and biceps brachii (BB) muscles. The amount of SAI did not differ between FDI, EDC and BB muscles. These data demonstrate inter-hemispheric differences in the processing of cutaneous input from the hand, with stronger SAI in the dominant left hemisphere. We also found that SAI occurred not only in hand muscles adjacent to electrical digital stimulation, but also in distant hand and forearm and also proximal arm muscles. This suggests that SAI induced by electrical D2 stimulation is not focal and somatotopically specific, but a more widespread inhibitory phenomenon.


Afferent inhibition Handedness Somatotopy Sensorimotor integration Transcranial magnetic stimulation