Rhythmic movements brought about by the contraction of muscles on one side of the body give rise to phase-locked changes in the excitability of the homologous motor pathways of the opposite limb. Such crossed facilitation should favour patterns of bimanual coordination in which homologous muscles are engaged simultaneously, and disrupt those in which the muscles are activated in an alternating fashion. In order to examine these issues, we obtained responses to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), to stimulation of the cervicomedullary junction (cervicomedullary-evoked potentials, CMEPs), to peripheral nerve stimulation (H-reflexes and f-waves), and elicited stretch reflexes in the relaxed right flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle during rhythmic (2 Hz) flexion and extension movements of the opposite (left) wrist. The potentials evoked by TMS in right FCR were potentiated during the phases of movement in which the left FCR was most strongly engaged. In contrast, CMEPs were unaffected by the movements of the opposite limb. These results suggest that there was systematic variation of the excitability of the motor cortex ipsilateral to the moving limb. H-reflexes and stretch reflexes recorded in right FCR were modulated in phase with the activation of left FCR. As the f-waves did not vary in corresponding fashion, it appears that the phasic modulation of the H-reflex was mediated by presynaptic inhibition of Ia afferents. The observation that both H-reflexes and f-waves were depressed markedly during movements of the opposite indicates that there may also have been postsynaptic inhibition or disfacilitation of the largest motor units. Our findings indicate that the patterned modulation of excitability in motor pathways that occurs during rhythmic movements of the opposite limb is mediated primarily by interhemispheric interactions between cortical motor areas
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