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Plasticity in the human nervous system—investigations with transcranial magnetic stimulation
  1. V Walsh

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    Edited by Simon Boniface and Uif Ziemann. Published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003, pp 316, £65.00. ISBN 0-521-80727-1

    During investigations into human brain mapping Penfield and Rasmussen (1950) noted that stimulation of some areas “sheds no light upon the function of an area unless the patient is making use of that area at the moment” (p 234). The lesson here is that one cannot study function independent of behaviour. And if behaviour changes, as in development, adaptation, learning, and compensatory plasticity, then one must be open to the possibility that the precise function of an area can change with behaviour.

    In this book the study of all these different types of plasticity are considered under the umbrella of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); a means of both measuring the effects of and production of plasticity. There are good introductions to the question of plasticity and also to the basics of TMS and the tour of the different types of plasticity is informative and accessible. The discussion of TMS alongside myelination in human infants (Eyre), the interactions between plasticity and NMSA or GABA receptors (Classen and Ziemann), and changes in skill level in the short (Robertson et al) and long term (Rossini and Liepert) all serve to emphasise an important point about TMS—that it has impressive functional resolution, a point often lost in barren debates over exact spatial resolution. The book is not directed only at the cognoscenti: the chapters are clear enough to be followed by any interested reader.

    The span of the book is mainly limited to motor physiology and plasticity but the principles of the findings in this book will be of use to those studying visual and cognitive plasticity. As a guide to the utility of TMS in the study of plasticity, this book will prove to be useful to those working with a range of other techniques and to readers at different levels of expertise. A welcome addition to the small TMS bookshelf.