Characterizing changes in the excitability of corticospinal projections to proximal muscles of the upper limb

Richard G Carson, Barry D Nelson, Alison R Buick, Timothy J Carroll, Niamh C Kennedy, Rachel Mac Cann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There has been an explosion of interest in methods of exogenous brain stimulation that induce changes in the excitability of human cerebral cortex. The expectation is that these methods may promote recovery of function following brain injury. To assess their effects on motor output, it is typical to assess the state of corticospinal projections from primary motor cortex to muscles of the hand, via electromyographic responses to transcranial magnetic stimulation. If a range of stimulation intensities is employed, the recruitment curves (RCs) obtained can, at least for intrinsic hand muscles, be fitted by a sigmoid function.

Objective/hypothesis: To establish whether sigmoid fits provide a reliable basis upon which to characterize the input–output properties of the corticospinal pathway for muscles proximal to the hand, and to assess as an alternative the area under the (recruitment) curve (AURC).

Methods: A comparison of the reliability of these measures, using RCs obtained for muscles that are frequently the targets of rehabilitation.

Results: The AURC is an extremely reliable measure of the state of corticospinal projections to hand and forearm muscles, which has both face and concurrent validity. Construct validity is demonstrated by detection of widely distributed (across muscles) changes in corticospinal excitability induced by paired associative stimulation (PAS).

Conclusion(s): The parameters derived from sigmoid fits are unlikely to provide an adequate means to assess the effectiveness of therapeutic regimes. The AURC can be employed to characterize corticospinal projections to a range of muscles, and gauge the efficacy of longitudinal interventions in clinical rehabilitation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)760-8
Number of pages9
JournalBrain stimulation
Issue number5
Early online date24 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics


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