Interhemispheric inhibition (IHI) between motor cortexes is thought to suppress unwanted mirror movements during voluntary behaviors and can be assessed using paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The magnitude of IHI may be related to the size of the cortical representation for a given muscle as a mechanism for facilitating unimanual control. To date, the relationship between IHI and cortical muscle representations remains unknown. Fifteen healthy, right-handed individuals participated in the present study. IHI was examined in the right first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle by delivering conditioning TMS to ipsilateral (right) primary motor cortex (M1) followed by a test TMS pulse to contralateral (left) M1. The size of the FDI representation in M1 was determined by delivering suprathreshold TMS over a 5 × 5-cm grid centered on the FDI motor hotspot of the left M1. Both IHI and cortical territory were obtained during three conditions: rest, contralateral (right) FDI contraction, and ipsilateral (left) FDI contraction. Results indicate a significant association between IHI and the size of the FDI representation only in the context of contraction and not when the FDI muscle was relaxed. Specifically, reduced IHI corresponded to larger cortical FDI representations during both contralateral and ipsilateral contraction. These data demonstrate that, for a muscle of the hand, the magnitude of IHI and the cortical territory are associated within the context of muscle contraction.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study provides evidence from noninvasive brain stimulation that communication between the motor cortexes of the two hemispheres plays a role in shaping the motor cortical map that outputs to a hand muscle during active contraction of that muscle. This relationship exists only when the hand muscle is contracted. The findings presented further our understanding of motor control during unilateral movement and may inform future research targeting clinical populations that exhibit impaired unilateral control.