What Do TMS-Evoked Motor Potentials Tell Us About Motor Learning?

Carson, Richard G and Ruddy, Kathy L and McNickle, Emmet
Progress in Motor Control, Springer International Publishing: 143—157, 2016

Thirty years ago, the first magnetic device capable of stimulating the human brain without discomfort through the intact skull was unveiled in Sheffield, England (Barker et al. in Lancet 1:1106–1107, 1985). Since that time, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has become the tool of choice for many scientists investigating human motor control and learning. In light of the fact that there are limits to the information that can be provided by any experimental technique, we first make the case that the necessarily restricted explanatory scope of the TMS technique—and the motor-evoked potentials to which it gives rise, is not yet reflected adequately in the research literature. We also argue that this inattention, coupled with the pervasive adoption of TMS as an investigative tool, may be restricting the elaboration of knowledge concerning the neural processes that mediate human motor learning. In order to make these points, we use as an exemplar the study of cross-education—the interlimb transfer of functional capacity.