The excitability of cortical neurons in the motor cortex is determined by their membrane potential and by the level of intracortical inhibition. The excitability of the motor cortex as a whole is a function of single cell excitability, synaptic strength, and the balance between excitatory cells and inhibitory cells. It is now established that a sustained period of somatosensory stimulation increases the excitability of motor cortex areas controlling muscles in those body parts that received the stimulation prior to excitability testing. So far, it has been supposed that the sensorimotor cortex was the anatomical substrate of these excitability changes, which could represent an early change in cortical network function before structural plasticity occurs. Recent experimental studies highlight that the cerebellum, especially the interpositus nucleus, plays a key role in the adaptation of the motor cortex to repeated trains of stimulation. Interpositus neurons, which receive inputs from both sensorimotor cortex and the spinal cord, are involved in somesthetic reflex behaviors and assist the cerebral cortex in transforming sensory signals to motor-oriented commands by acting via the cerebello-thalamo-cortical projections. Moreover, climbing fibers originating in the inferior olivary complex and innervating the nucleus interpositus mediate highly integrated sensorimotor information derived from spinal modules. It appears that the interpositus nucleus is a main subcortical modulator of the excitability changes occurring in the motor cortex, which may be a substrate of early plasticity effective in motor learning and recovery from lesion.
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Luft, A.R., Manto, M. & Oulad Ben Taib, N. Modulation of motor cortex excitability by sustained peripheral stimulation: The interaction between the motor cortex and the cerebellum. Cerebellum 4, 90 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1080/14734220410019084
- Motor cortex