PLoS biology, 2005; 3 (11) doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030362
Affiliation: Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
Abstract: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is increasingly used to investigate mechanisms of brain functions and plasticity, but also as a promising new therapeutic tool. The effects of rTMS depend on the intensity and frequency of stimulation and consist of changes of cortical excitability, which often persists several minutes after termination of rTMS. While these findings imply that cortical processing can be altered by applying current pulses from outside the brain, little is known about how rTMS persistently affects learning and perception. Here we demonstrate in humans, through a combination of psychophysical assessment of two-point discrimination thresholds and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that brief periods of 5 Hz rTMS evoke lasting perceptual and cortical changes. rTMS was applied over the cortical representation of the right index finger of primary somatosensory cortex, resulting in a lowering of discrimination thresholds of the right index finger. fMRI revealed an enlargement of the right index finger representation in primary somatosensory cortex that was linearly correlated with the individual rTMS-induced perceptual improvement indicative of a close link between cortical and perceptual changes. The results demonstrate that repetitive, unattended stimulation from outside the brain, combined with a lack of behavioral information, are effective in driving persistent improvement of the perception of touch. The underlying properties and processes that allow cortical networks, after being modified through TMS pulses, to reach new organized stable states that mediate better performance remain to be clarified.
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