Multiple blocks of intermittent and continuous theta-burst stimulation applied via transcranial magnetic stimulation differently affect sensory responses in rat barrel cortex

Andreas Thimm, Klaus Funke
Journal of Physiology 2015 February 15, 593 (4): 967-85

KEY POINTS: Theta-burst stimulation (TBS) applied via transcranial magnetic stimulation is able to modulate human cortical excitability. Here we investigated in a rat model how two different forms of TBS, intermittent (iTBS) and continuous (cTBS), affect sensory responses in rat barrel cortex. We found that iTBS but less cTBS promoted late (>18 ms) sensory response components while not affecting the earliest response (8-18 ms). The effect increased with each of the five iTBS blocks applied. cTBS somewhat reduced the early response component after the first block but had a similar effect as iTBS after four to five blocks. We conclude that iTBS primarly modulates the activity of (inhibitory) cortical interneurons while cTBS may first reduce general neuronal excitability with a single block but reverse to iTBS-like effects with application of several blocks.

ABSTRACT: Cortical sensory processing varies with cortical state and the balance of inhibition to excitation. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been shown to modulate human cortical excitability. In a rat model, we recently showed that intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) applied to the corpus callosum, to activate primarily supragranular cortical pyramidal cells but fewer subcortical neurons, strongly reduced the cortical expression of parvalbumin (PV), indicating reduced activity of fast-spiking interneurons. Here, we used the well-studied rodent barrel cortex system to test how iTBS and continuous TBS (cTBS) modulate sensory responses evoked by either single or double stimuli applied to the principal (PW) and/or adjacent whisker (AW) in urethane-anaesthetized rats. Compared to sham stimulation, iTBS but not cTBS particularly enhanced late (>18 ms) response components of multi-unit spiking and local field potential responses in layer 4 but not the very early response (<18 ms). Similarly, only iTBS diminished the suppression of the second response evoked by paired PW or AW-PW stimulation at 20 ms intervals. The effects increased with each of the five iTBS blocks applied. With cTBS a mild effect similar to that of iTBS was first evident after 4-5 stimulation blocks. Enhanced cortical c-Fos and zif268 expression but reduced PV and GAD67 expression was found only after iTBS, indicating increased cortical activity due to lowered inhibition. We conclude that iTBS but less cTBS may primarily weaken a late recurrent-type cortical inhibition mediated via a subset of PV+ interneurons, enabling stronger late response components believed to contribute to the perception of sensory events.

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