Indexed on: 02 Apr '04Published on: 02 Apr '04Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Recent experimental work in animals has emphasized the importance of homeostatic plasticity as a means of stabilizing the properties of neuronal circuits. Here, we report a phenomenon that indicates a homeostatic pattern of cortical plasticity in healthy human subjects. The experiments combined two techniques that can produce long-term effects on the excitability of corticospinal output neurons: transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of the left primary motor cortex. "Facilitatory preconditioning" with anodal TDCS caused a subsequent period of 1 Hz rTMS to reduce corticospinal excitability to below baseline levels for >20 min. Conversely, "inhibitory preconditioning" with cathodal TDCS resulted in 1 Hz rTMS increasing corticospinal excitability for at least 20 min. No changes in excitability occurred when 1 Hz rTMS was preceded by sham TDCS. Thus, changing the initial state of the motor cortex by a period of DC polarization reversed the conditioning effects of 1 Hz rTMS. These preconditioning effects of TDCS suggest the existence of a homeostatic mechanism in the human motor cortex that stabilizes corticospinal excitability within a physiologically useful range.