Increase in tibialis anterior motor cortex excitability following repetitive electrical stimulation of the common peroneal nerve

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The purpose of this study was to investigate whether repetitive electrical stimulation of the common peroneal nerve (CPN) is associated with changes in the motor response of the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle elicited by focal magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex. Motor evoked potentials (MEP) with a stimulation intensity of 125% of the threshold of the relaxed right TA were obtained before, during, and after repetitive electrical stimulation of the CPN (trains of five pulses of 1 ms, at a frequency of 200 Hz, repeated every second with a 30-min duration). The MEP of the TA muscle elicited after repetitive electrical stimulation were increased by 104% (range: 18-263%), and the increase was maintained for up to 110 min (range: 15-110 min) after the end of nerve stimulation. This increase in the MEP of the TA muscle was associated with a decrease in the threshold from the stimulation-response curve. Furthermore, during that period the early component of the TA stretch reflex as well as the latency of the MEP did not significantly change. To further test the origin of the increased MEP, complementary experiments showed that MEP elicited by transcranial electrical stimulation (TES) were also increased, but to a lesser degree (approximately 50%) than MEP elicited by TMS. It can be concluded that short-term nerve repetitive electrical stimulation of the lower extremities in healthy human participants can lead to a long-term increase in the contralateral MEP. As TES is believed to mainly activate the axon and not the soma of the cortical cells, the increased MEP cannot be explained exclusively by changes in the motor cortex cell excitability, but also by changes in subcortical neural structures involved in the excitation of spinal motoneurons. The results of this study allow the speculation that it would be possible to use repetitive electrical stimulation in the rehabilitation of patients with lower limb muscle weakness and spasticity.

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