Establishing the Minimum Intensity of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Superconditioning Pulses to Effect Inhibition and Facilitation of Motor Evoked Potentials

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology. 40(4):331-338, 2023 May 01.

AUTHORS: Calancie BM; Chin S; Wang D

PURPOSE: Previously, we showed that a three-pulse train of weak transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulses-a superconditioning (SC) train-when followed by a stronger TMS pulse could enhance the inhibition or facilitation of the resultant motor evoked potential (MEP) compared with that seen with traditional dual-pulse inputs. The purpose of the present study was to establish the relative minimum intensity of SC pulses needed to influence MEP output and whether this differed for upper- versus lower-limb muscles.

METHODS: We examined 33 older adult subjects, targeting abductor pollicis brevis and tibialis anterior muscles. Older subjects were included in the anticipation of using findings from this study to guide further studies in persons with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Three-pulse trains of SC inputs of different intensities were delivered either 1 millisecond before (for inhibition) or 10 millisecond before (for facilitation) a stronger TMS test pulse. Motor evoked potential magnitudes for SC +test sets were normalized to test input responses and were compared within and between subjects.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: For inhibition, the minimum intensity of SC pulses needed to influence the follow-on MEP was found to be 60% of the target muscle’s resting three-pulse MEP threshold for most abductor pollicis brevis and tibialis anterior muscles (2-millisecond interpulse intervals). For facilitation, somewhat higher intensities (70%) were typically needed to cause facilitation. Both values of SC pulses for inhibition/facilitation are considerably lower than the intensity of the conditioning pulse-often reported as 80% of the single-pulse threshold-typically used in dual-pulse TMS paradigms. This approach may allow testing of upper motor neuron function using weaker stimulus pulse intensities than are typically employed, improving testing compliance in persons whose thresholds are elevated because of injury or disease.