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Rosenkranz K, Rothwell JC (2006) Differences between the effects of three plasticity inducing protocols on the organization of the human motor cortex. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23(3):822-829    
Several experimental protocols induce lasting changes in the excitability of motor cortex. Some involve direct cortical stimulation, others activate the somatosensory system and some combine motor and sensory stimulation. The effects usually are measured as changes in amplitude of the motor-evoked-potential (MEP) or short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) elicited by a single or paired pulses of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Recent work has also tested sensorimotor organization within the motor cortex by recording MEPs and SICI during short periods of vibration applied to single intrinsic hand muscles. Here sensorimotor organization is focal: MEPs increase and SICI decreases in the vibrated muscle, whilst the opposite occurs in neighbouring muscles. In six volunteers we compared the after effects of three protocols that lead to lasting changes in cortical excitability: (i) paired associative stimulation (PAS) between a TMS pulse and an electrical stimulus to the median nerve; (ii) motor practice of rapid thumb abduction; and (iii) sensory input produced by semicontinuous muscle vibration, on MEPs and SICI at rest and on the sensorimotor organization. PAS increased MEP amplitudes, whereas vibration changed sensorimotor organization. Motor practice had a dual effect and increased MEPs as well as affecting sensorimotor organization. The implication is that different protocols target different sets of cortical circuits. We speculate that protocols that involve repeated activation of motor cortical output lead to lasting changes in efficacy of synaptic connections in output circuits, whereas protocols that emphasize sensory inputs affect the strength of sensory inputs to motor circuits