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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 17, Issue 3-4, Pages 135-148

Rapid Modulation of Distributed Brain Activity by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of Human Motor Cortex

Lucy Lee,1 Hartwig Siebner,2,3 and Sven Bestmann1

1Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, 12 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3BG, UK
2Department of Neurology, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany
3NeuroImageNord Kiel-Hamburg-Lübeck at Hamburg University Hospital, Hamburg, Germany

Received 21 November 2006; Accepted 21 November 2006

Copyright © 2006 Hindawi Publishing Corporation and the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This paper reviews the effects of single and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimuli (rTMS) delivered to one cortical area and measured across distributed brain regions using electrophysiological measures (e.g. motor thresholds, motor evoked potentials, paired-pulse stimulation), functional neuroimaging (including EEG, PET and fMRI) and behavioural measures. Discussion is restricted to changes in excitability in the primary motor cortex and behaviour during motor tasks following transcranial magnetic stimulation delivered to primary motor and premotor areas. Trains of rTMS have lasting effects on the excitability of intrinsic and corticofugal neurones, altering the responsiveness of local and remote sites. These effects lead to distributed changes in synaptic activity at rest, and during a range of motor tasks. It is possible to impair or improve performance following rTMS, but for most simple motor tasks performance is unaltered. Changes in distributed activity observed with functional imaging during motor behaviour may represent compensatory activity, enabling maintenance of performance; stimulation of additional cortical areas appears to impair performance. A detailed understanding of the distributed changes in excitability following rTMS may facilitate future attempts to modulate motor behaviour in the healthy brain and for therapeutic purposes.