Cortical excitability in patients with focal epilepsy: a study with high frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)

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Epileptogenesis involves an increase in excitatory synaptic strength in the brain in a manner similar to synaptic potentiation. In the present study we investigated the mechanisms of short-term synaptic potentiation in patients with focal epilepsy by using 5 Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a non invasive neurophysiological technique able to investigate the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in humans. Ten patients with focal idiopathic cortical epilepsy were studied. 5 Hz-rTMS (10 stimuli-trains, 120% of motor threshold, RMT) was delivered over the first dorsal interosseus (FDI) motor area of both (affected and unaffected) hemispheres. Changes in the motor evoked potential (MEP) size in the FDI muscle during the trains and the RMT were measured and compared between the hemispheres. 5 Hz-rTMS was also delivered in a group of healthy subjects over both hemispheres. 5 Hz-rTMS in patients elicited a reduced MEP facilitation compared to normal subjects. The reduced MEP amplitude was more evident in the affected hemisphere than in the unaffected hemisphere. RMT in the affected hemisphere was higher than in the unaffected hemisphere and in healthy subjects. Our findings showing a decreased response to 5 Hz-rTMS over the affected hemisphere, differently from the expected results suggest a reduced cortical excitability in epileptic patients. We hypothesize an altered balance between excitatory and inhibitory circuits in epileptic patients under chronic therapy.
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Archival date: 2011-10-09
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