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Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2010 Jul 30;2:34. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2010.00034. eCollection 2010.

Plasticity resembling spike-timing dependent synaptic plasticity: the evidence in human cortex.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


Spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) has been studied extensively in a variety of animal models during the past decade but whether it can be studied at the systems level of the human cortex has been a matter of debate. Only recently newly developed non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) have made it possible to induce and assess timing dependent plasticity in conscious human subjects. This review will present a critical synopsis of these experiments, which suggest that several of the principal characteristics and molecular mechanisms of TMS-induced plasticity correspond to those of STDP as studied at a cellular level. TMS combined with a second phasic stimulation modality can induce bidirectional long-lasting changes in the excitability of the stimulated cortex, whose polarity depends on the order of the associated stimulus-evoked events within a critical time window of tens of milliseconds. Pharmacological evidence suggests an NMDA receptor mediated form of synaptic plasticity. Studies in human motor cortex demonstrated that motor learning significantly modulates TMS-induced timing dependent plasticity, and, conversely, may be modulated bidirectionally by prior TMS-induced plasticity, providing circumstantial evidence that long-term potentiation-like mechanisms may be involved in motor learning. In summary, convergent evidence is being accumulated for the contention that it is now possible to induce STDP-like changes in the intact human central nervous system by means of TMS to study and interfere with synaptic plasticity in neural circuits in the context of behavior such as learning and memory.


cortex; human; long-term depression; long-term potentiation; paired associative stimulation; spike-timing dependent plasticity; transcranial magnetic stimulation; translational neuroscience

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