Direct and crossed effects of somatosensory electrical stimulation on motor learning and neuronal plasticity in humans

M. P. Veldman, I. Zijdewind, S. Solnik, N. A. Maffiuletti, K. M.M. Berghuis, M. Javet, J. Négyesi, T. Hortobágyi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Sensory input can modify voluntary motor function. We examined whether somatosensory electrical stimulation (SES) added to motor practice (MP) could augment motor learning, interlimb transfer, and whether physiological changes in neuronal excitability underlie these changes. Methods: Participants (18–30 years, n = 31) received MP, SES, MP + SES, or a control intervention. Visuomotor practice included 300 trials for 25 min with the right-dominant wrist and SES consisted of weak electrical stimulation of the radial and median nerves above the elbow. Single- and double-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) metrics were measured in the intervention and non-intervention extensor carpi radialis. Results: There was 27 % motor learning and 9 % (both p < 0.001) interlimb transfer in all groups but SES added to MP did not augment learning and transfer. Corticospinal excitability increased after MP and SES when measured at rest but it increased after MP and decreased after SES when measured during contraction. No changes occurred in intracortical inhibition and facilitation. MP did not affect the TMS metrics in the transfer hand. In contrast, corticospinal excitability strongly increased after SES with MP + SES showing sharply opposite of these effects. Conclusion: Motor practice and SES each can produce motor learning and interlimb transfer and are likely to be mediated by different mechanisms. The results provide insight into the physiological mechanisms underlying the effects of MP and SES on motor learning and cortical plasticity and show that these mechanisms are likely to be different for the trained and stimulated motor cortex and the non-trained and non-stimulated motor cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2505-2519
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Sep 3
Externally publishedYes


  • Corticospinal excitability
  • Interlimb transfer
  • Motor evoked potential
  • Primary motor cortex
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physiology (medical)


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