Transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces masseter motoneuron pool excitability throughout the cortical silent period

Paul F. Sowman, Stanley C. Flavel, Christie L. McShane, Timothy S. Miles, Michael A. Nordstrom*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To evaluate the time-course of changes in masseter motoneuron pool excitability following transcranial magnetic stimulation of motor cortex, and relate this to the duration of the masseter cortical silent period (CSP). Methods: Surface EMG was recorded bilaterally from masseter and digastric muscles in 13 subjects. Focal TMS was applied at 1.3× active motor threshold (AMT) to motor cortex of one hemisphere to elicit a muscle evoked potential (MEP) and silent period bilaterally in masseter as subjects maintained an isometric bite at ∼10% maximum. With jaw muscles relaxed, a servo-controlled stretcher evoked a stretch reflex in masseter which was conditioned by TMS (1.3× AMT) at 14 different conditioning-testing intervals. There were 20 trials at each interval, in random order. TMS evoked no MEP in resting masseter, but often produced a small MEP in digastric. Results: Mean (±SE) masseter CSP was 67 ± 3 ms. The masseter stretch reflex was facilitated when stretch preceded TMS by 8 and 10 ms, which we attribute to spatial summation of corticobulbar and Ia-afferent excitatory inputs to masseter. Masseter stretch reflex amplitude was reduced when TMS was given up to 75 ms before stretch, and for up to 2 ms afterwards. Conclusions: We conclude that descending corticobulbar activity evoked by TMS acts bilaterally on brainstem interneurons that either inhibit masseter motoneurons or increase pre-synaptic inhibition of Ia-afferent terminals for up to 75 ms after TMS. The reduction of masseter motoneuron pool excitability following TMS has a similar time-course to the CSP. Significance: In contrast to the situation for spinal and facial (CN VII) muscles, the masseter CSP appears to have no component that can be attributed exclusively to cortical mechanisms. Abnormalities in the masseter cortical silent period observed in neurological conditions may be due to pathophysiological changes at cortical and/or sub-cortical levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1119-1129
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes


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