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Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1990 Sep-Oct;77(5):390-401.

A comparison of corticospinal activation by magnetic coil and electrical stimulation of monkey motor cortex.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, State University of New York, Brooklyn 11203.


The effects of different orientations of a Cadwell round magnetic coil (MC) were compared with each other and with surface electrical stimulation of motor cortex in monkeys anesthetized with pentobarbital or urethane. Recordings were made from within the lateral corticospinal tract, either from axonal populations or with a microelectrode from individual axons. A lateral-sagittally orientated MC directly excited corticospinal neurons at lower stimulus intensity than was required for indirect, i.e., transsynaptic excitation via inputs to corticospinal neurons. By contrast, in 2 out of 3 macaques tested, a vertex-tangential orientation could excite corticospinal neurons indirectly at lower intensities than were required for direct excitation; at higher intensities, direct excitation also occurred. The site of direct corticospinal excitation by a lateral-sagittally orientated MC was inferred by comparing the response variability and latency to MC and surface electrical stimuli. Cathodal stimuli elicited more variable corticospinal population responses and later individual axonal responses than were obtained with anodal stimuli. The variability in response is attributed to interaction between nearby, on-going synaptic bombardment and the stimulus, implying that surface cathodal stimuli directly activate corticospinal neurons at the spike trigger zone (presumably the initial segment). By contrast, the consistency and reduced latency of the corticospinal responses to surface anodal stimuli are attributed to the direct excitation of corticospinal fibers within the white matter. When the stimulus intensity is clearly above threshold, surface anodal and cathodal stimuli can activate corticospinal neurons both directly and indirectly. Direct corticospinal excitation by the MC can resemble the effects of either surface anodal or surface cathodal stimuli. We conclude that the MC can activate corticospinal neurons at the spike trigger zone or their fibers deeper in white matter. The findings in the monkey are used to interpret the effects of different MC orientations in the human.

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