Identifying spinal tracts transmitting distant effects of trans-spinal magnetic stimulation

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Journal of neurophysiology


Estimating the state of tract-specific inputs to spinal motoneurons is critical to understanding movement deficits induced by neurological injury and potential pathways to recovery but remains challenging in humans. In this study, we explored the capability of trans-spinal magnetic stimulation (TSMS) to modulate distal reflex circuits in young adults. TSMS was applied over the thoracic spine to condition soleus H-reflexes involving sacral-level motoneurons. Three TSMS intensities below the motor threshold were applied at interstimulus intervals (ISIs) between 2 and 20 ms relative to peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS). Although low-intensity TSMS yielded no changes in H-reflexes across ISIs, the two higher stimulus intensities yielded two phases of H-reflex inhibition: a relatively long-lasting period at 2- to 9-ms ISIs, and a short phase at 11- to 12-ms ISIs. H-reflex inhibition at 2-ms ISI was uniquely dependent on TSMS intensity. To identify the candidate neural pathways contributing to H-reflex suppression, we constructed a tract-specific conduction time estimation model. Based upon our model, H-reflex inhibition at 11- to 12-ms ISIs is likely a manifestation of orthodromic transmission along the lateral reticulospinal tract. In contrast, the inhibition at 2-ms ISI likely reflects orthodromic transmission along sensory fibers with activation reaching the brain, before descending along motor tracts. Multiple pathways may contribute to H-reflex modulation between 4- and 9-ms ISIs, orthodromic transmission along sensorimotor tracts, and antidromic transmission of multiple motor tracts. Our findings suggest that noninvasive TSMS can influence motoneuron excitability at distal segments and that the contribution of specific tracts to motoneuron excitability may be distinguishable based on conduction velocities.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study explored the capability of trans-spinal magnetic stimulation (TSMS) over the thoracic spine to modulate distal reflex circuits, H-reflexes involving sacral-level motoneurons, in young adults. TSMS induced two inhibition phases of H-reflex across interstimulus intervals (ISIs): a relatively long-lasting period at 2- to 9-ms ISIs, and a short phase at 11- to 12-ms ISIs. An estimated probability model constructed from tract-specific conduction velocities allowed the identification of potential spinal tracts contributing to the changes in motoneuron excitability.

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