The tendency for contractions of muscles in the upper limb to give rise to increases in the excitability of corticospinal projections to the homologous muscles of the opposite limb is well known. Although the suppression of this tendency is integral to tasks of daily living, its exploitation may prove to be critical in the rehabilitation of acquired hemiplegias. Transcranial direct current (DC) stimulation induces changes in cortical excitability that outlast the period of application. We present evidence that changes in the reactivity of the corticospinal pathway induced by DC stimulation of the motor cortex interact systematically with those brought about by contraction of the muscles of the ipsilateral limb. During the application of flexion torques (up to 50% of maximum) applied at the left wrist, motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were evoked in the quiescent muscles of the right arm by magnetic stimulation of the left motor cortex (M1). The MEPs were obtained prior to and following 10 min of anodal, cathodal or sham DC stimulation of left M1. Cathodal stimulation counteracted increases in the crossed-facilitation of projections to the (right) wrist flexors that otherwise occurred as a result of repeated flexion contractions at the left wrist. In addition, cathodal stimulation markedly decreased the excitability of corticospinal projections to the wrist extensors of the right limb. Thus changes in corticospinal excitability induced by DC stimulation can be shaped (i.e. differentiated by muscle group) by focal contractions of muscles in the limb ipsilateral to the site of stimulation. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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