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Curr Biol. 2009 Oct 13;19(19):1637-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.074. Epub 2009 Oct 1.

Boosting cortical activity at Beta-band frequencies slows movement in humans.

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  • 1Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


Neurons have a striking tendency to engage in oscillatory activities. One important type of oscillatory activity prevalent in the motor system occurs in the beta frequency band, at about 20 Hz. It is manifest during the maintenance of tonic contractions and is suppressed prior to and during voluntary movement. This and other correlative evidence suggests that beta activity might promote tonic contraction, while impairing motor processing related to new movements. Hence, bursts of beta activity in the cortex are associated with a strengthening of the motor effects of sensory feedback during tonic contraction and with reductions in the velocity of voluntary movements. Moreover, beta activity is increased when movement has to be resisted or voluntarily suppressed. Here we use imperceptible transcranial alternating-current stimulation to entrain cortical activity at 20 Hz in healthy subjects and show that this slows voluntary movement. The present findings are the first direct evidence of causality between any physiological oscillatory brain activity and concurrent motor behavior in the healthy human and help explain how the exaggerated beta activity found in Parkinson's disease can lead to motor slowing in this illness.

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