We investigated changes in the corticospinal pattern of activity in healthy volunteers during sustained noxious and non-noxious mechanical stimulation of the first hand digit, resulting from active (self-stimulation) or passive (externally-induced) pressing against a sharp or blunted tip. The results indicate that, in order to press a finger onto a noxious stimulus with the same force generated to press onto a nonnoxious one, the motor cortex adopts a peculiar strategy in terms of recruitment of motor units. This is reflected by an increase of corticospinal excitability (as revealed by motor potentials evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the contralateral primary motor cortex) and EMG activity of agonist muscles, possibly related to an increase of motor unit synchronization.
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