Corticospinal excitability across lower limb muscles in humans

Ines Eisner-Janowicz, Bing Chen, Sina Sangari, Monica A. Perez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electrophysiological studies in nonhuman primates reported the existence of strong corticospinal output from the primary motor cortex to distal compared with proximal hindlimb muscles. The extent to which corticospinal output differs across muscles in the leg in humans remains poorly understood. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation over the leg representation of the primary motor cortex, we constructed motor evoked potential (MEP) recruitment curves to measure the resting motor threshold (RMT), maximum MEP amplitude (MEP-max), and slope in the biceps femoris, rectus femoris, tibialis anterior, soleus, and a foot muscle (i.e., abductor hallucis) in intact humans. We found that the RMT was lower and the MEP-max and slope were larger in the abductor hallucis compared with most other muscles tested. In contrast, the RMT was higher and the MEP-max and slope were lower in the biceps femoris compared to all other muscles tested. Corticospinal responses in the rectus femoris, tibialis anterior, and soleus were in between those obtained from other leg muscles, with the soleus having a higher RMT and lower MEP-max and slope than the rectus femoris and tibialis anterior. To examine the origin of increases in corticospinal excitability in the abductor hallucis, we compared short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) and F-waves between the abductor hallucis and tibialis anterior. SICI was similar across muscles while the F-wave amplitude was larger in the abductor hallucis compared with the tibialis anterior. These results support a nonuniform distribution of corticospinal output to leg muscles, highlighting that increases in corticospinal excitability in a foot muscle could be related to a spinal origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)788-797
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • abductor hallucis
  • corticospinal excitability
  • corticospinal output
  • leg
  • lower limb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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