The projections from the cortex to the motor neurons of lower limb muscles were examined in 33 normal subjects and 16 patients with incomplete spinal cord lesions. Corticospinal neurons were excited by transcranial magnetic stimulation and the effects on single spinal motor neurons determined from peristimulus time histograms (PSTHs) of single tibialis anterior (TA) and soleus (SOL) motor units. In normal subjects magnetic stimulation produced a short latency facilitation of TA motor units but had little or no effect on SOL motor units. In the patients with spinal cord lesions magnetic stimulation also produced facilitation of TA but not SOL motor units; however, the mean latency of the TA facilitation was significantly longer (by about 14 ms) in the patient group. The F wave latencies were normal in all patients tested, suggesting that central rather than peripheral conduction was slowed. The duration of the period of increased firing probability (in TA motor units) was also significantly longer in the patients with spinal cord lesions. These changes may reflect the slowing of conduction and dispersal of conduction velocities in the corticospinal pathways as a consequence of the spinal cord lesion. No significant correlations were found between the delay of the TA facilitation and the clinical deficits in this group of patients.
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