Abstract

During voluntary motor actions, the cortico-spinal (CS) excitability is known to be modulated, on the one hand by cognitive (intention-related) processes and, on the other hand, by motor (performance-related) processes. Here, we studied the way these processes interact in the tuning of CS excitability during voluntary wrist movement. We used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) both as a reliable tool for quantifying the CS excitability, through the motor-evoked potentials (MEPs), and as a central perturbation evoking a movement (because the stimulation intensity was above threshold) with subjects instructed to prepare (without changing their muscle activation) either to “let go” or to “resist” to this evoked movement. We studied the simultaneous evolution of both the motor performance and the MEPs in the wrist flexor and extensor, separately for the successful trials (on average, 66% of the trials whatever the condition) and the unsuccessful trials; this allowed us to dissociate the intentionand performance-related processes. To their great surprise, subjects were found able to cognitively prepare themselves to resist a TMS-induced central perturbation; they all reported an important cognitive effort on the evoked movement. Moreover, because TMS only evoked short-latency MEPs (and no long-latency components), the amplitude of these short-latency MEPs was found to be related in a continuous way to the actual movement whatever the prior intention. These results demonstrate that prior intention allows an anticipatory modulation of the CS excitability, which is not only selective (as already known) but also efficient, giving the intended motor behavior a real chance to be realized. This constitutes a direct evidence of the role of the CS excitability in the binding between cognitive and motor processes in humans.

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