Can the Recording of Motor Potentials Evoked by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Be Optimized?

Marco A. C. Garcia, Victor H. Souza and Claudia D. Vargas

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) combined with surface electromyography (sEMG) has been for a long time an important non-invasive tool to investigate and better understand how brain controls the skeletal muscles. However, the present literature still lacks standardization protocols and comprehensive discussions about possible influences of sEMG electrode placement and montages on TMS evoked responses. With the advent of TMS by Barker et al. (1985), several advances have been made in basic and clinical neurophysiology (Rossini et al., 2015). In TMS, a high-intensity brief magnetic pulse applied with a coil over the subject's scalp, induces an electric field across the cortical tissue that depolarizes a group of neuronal pools. Therefore, if a single pulse is applied over a particular spot of the primary motor cortex (M1), the generated action potentials travel down the corticospinal tract reaching a specific muscle or group of muscles, which in turn can be achieved by recording their myoelectric activities. Such myoelectric activity may contain potentials varying from a few micro to millivolts and are recognized as motor evoked potentials (MEPs). MEPs can be recorded by means of sEMG with different electrode types, e.g. surface or indwelling, and montages, e.g. mono and bipolar. Most TMS applications take advantage of MEP amplitude and latency to evaluate the integrity and/or excitability of the motor corticospinal pathway to study normal and abnormal aspects of neurophysiology, including the pathophysiology of many neurological and motor disorders. Some may believe that differences in electrode arrangement for recording MEPs can offer a small impact in data quality; in this case he/she may be a victim of an ordinary pitfall. Thus, we may ask and discuss along this manuscript, what are the disadvantages and advantages of recording MEPs from different surface electrode montages? Do they provide a robust and similar comprehension of motor corticospinal excitability?

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