Phase of beta-frequency tACS over primary motor cortex modulates corticospinal excitability

Lukas Schilberg*, Tahnée Engelen, Sanne Ten Oever, Teresa Schuhmann, Beatrice de Gelder, Tom A. de Graaf, Alexander T. Sack*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The assessment of corticospinal excitability by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation-induced motor evoked potentials is an established diagnostic tool in neurophysiology and a widely used procedure in fundamental brain research. However, concern about low reliability of these measures has grown recently. One possible cause of high variability of MEPs under identical acquisition conditions could be the influence of oscillatory neuronal activity on corticospinal excitability. Based on research showing that transcranial alternating current stimulation can entrain neuronal oscillations we here test whether alpha or beta frequency tACS can influence corticospinal excitability in a phase-dependent manner. We applied tACS at individually calibrated alpha- and beta-band oscillation frequencies, or we applied sham tACS. Simultaneous single TMS pulses time locked to eight equidistant phases of the ongoing tACS signal evoked MEPs. To evaluate offline effects of stimulation frequency, MEP amplitudes were measured before and after tACS. To evaluate whether tACS influences MEP amplitude, we fitted one-cycle sinusoids to the average MEPs elicited at the different phase conditions of each tACS frequency. We found no frequency-specific offline effects of tACS. However, beta-frequency tACS modulation of MEPs was phase-dependent. Post hoc analyses suggested that this effect was specific to participants with low (<19 Hz) intrinsic beta frequency. In conclusion, by showing that beta tACS influences MEP amplitude in a phase-dependent manner, our results support a potential role attributed to neuronal oscillations in regulating corticospinal excitability. Moreover, our findings may be useful for the development of TMS protocols that improve the reliability of MEPs as a meaningful tool for research applications or for clinical monitoring and diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-152
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Journal Article

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