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J Physiol. 2003 Dec 1;553(Pt 2):665-79. Epub 2003 Sep 8.

Effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation on single-unit activity in the cat primary visual cortex.

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Department of Neurophysiology, Ruhr-University Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany.


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has become a well established procedure for testing and modulating the neuronal excitability of human brain areas, but relatively little is known about the cellular processes induced by this rather coarse stimulus. In a first attempt, we performed extracellular single-unit recordings in the primary visual cortex (area 17) of the anaesthetised and paralysed cat, with the stimulating magnetic field centred at the recording site (2 x 70 mm figure-of-eight coil). The effect of single biphasic TMS pulses, which induce a lateral-to-medial electric current within the occipital pole of the right hemisphere, was tested for spontaneous as well as visually evoked activity. For cat visual cortex we found that a single TMS pulse elicited distinct episodes of enhanced and suppressed activity: in general, a facilitation of activity was found during the first 500 ms, followed thereafter by a suppression of activity lasting up to a few seconds. Strong stimuli exceeding 50 % of maximal stimulator output could also lead to an early suppression of activity during the first 100-200 ms, followed by stronger (rebound) facilitation. Early suppression and facilitation of activity may be related to a more or less direct stimulation of inhibitory and excitatory interneurons, probably with different thresholds. The late, long-lasting suppression is more likely to be related to metabotropic or metabolic processes, or even vascular responses. The time course of facilitation/inhibition may provide clues regarding the action of repetitive TMS application.

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