Selective Suppression of Local Interneuron Circuits in Human Motor Cortex Contributes to Movement Preparation

Ricci Hannah, Sean E Cavanagh, Sara Tremblay, Sara Simeoni, John C Rothwell

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in neural activity occur in the motor cortex before movement, but the nature and purpose of this preparatory activity is unclear. To investigate this in the human (male and female) brain noninvasively, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to probe the excitability of distinct sets of excitatory inputs to corticospinal neurons during the warning period of various reaction time tasks. Using two separate methods (H-reflex conditioning and directional effects of TMS), we show that a specific set of excitatory inputs to corticospinal neurons are suppressed during motor preparation, while another set of inputs remain unaffected. To probe the behavioral relevance of this suppression, we examined whether the strength of the selective preparatory inhibition in each trial was related to reaction time. Surprisingly, the greater the amount of selective preparatory inhibition, the faster the reaction time was. This suggests that the inhibition of inputs to corticospinal neurons is not involved in preventing the release of movement but may in fact facilitate rapid reactions. Thus, selective suppression of a specific set of motor cortical neurons may be a key aspect of successful movement preparation.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Movement preparation evokes substantial activity in the motor cortex despite no apparent movement. One explanation for the lack of movement is that motor cortical output in this period is gated by an inhibitory mechanism. This notion was supported by previous noninvasive TMS studies of human motor cortex indicating a reduction of corticospinal excitability. On the contrary, our data support the idea that there is a coordinated balance of activity upstream of the corticospinal output neurons. This includes a suppression of specific local circuits that supports, rather than inhibits, the rapid generation of prepared movements. Thus, the selective suppression of local circuits appears to be an essential part of successful movement preparation instead of an external control mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1264-1276
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018


  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological/physiology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor/physiology
  • Female
  • H-Reflex/physiology
  • Humans
  • Interneurons/physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex/physiology
  • Movement/physiology
  • Neural Pathways/physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance/physiology
  • Pyramidal Tracts/cytology
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Young Adult


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