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Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2011;29(5):311-20. doi: 10.3233/RNN-2011-0601.

Isometric contraction interferes with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) induced plasticity: evidence of state-dependent neuromodulation in human motor cortex.

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Institute of Neurosciences and Medicine (INM-3), Cognitive Neurology Section, Research Centre Juelich, Germany.



Neuroplastic alterations of cortical excitability and activity represent the likely neurophysiological foundation of learning and memory formation. Beyond their induction, alterations of these processes by subsequent modification of cortical activity, termed metaplasticity, came into the focus of interest recently. Animal slice experiments demonstrated that neuroplastic excitability enhancements, or diminutions, can be abolished by consecutive subthreshold stimulation. These processes, termed de-potentiation, and de-depression, have so far not been explored in humans.


We combined neuroplasticity induction by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to the hand area of primary motor cortex (M1), which can be used to induce long-lasting excitability enhancements or reductions, dependent on the polarity of stimulation, with short-lasting voluntary muscle contraction (VMC), which itself does not induce plastic cortical excitability changes. Corticospinal and intra-cortical M1 excitability were monitored by different transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) protocols.


VMC reduced or tended to reverse the anodal tDCS-driven motor cortical excitability enhancement and the cathodal tDCS-induced excitability diminution. Our findings thus demonstrate de-potentiation- and de-depression-like phenomena at the system level in the human motor cortex.


This neurophysiological study may contribute to a better understanding of the balance between induction and reversal of plasticity associated with motor learning and rehabilitation processes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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