Several techniques that involve transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to measure brain plasticity noninvasively in humans. These include paired-associative stimulation (PAS), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and theta burst stimulation (TBS). Some of these techniques are based the principle of use dependent plasticity or are designed to mimic protocols used to induce long-term potentiation or depression in animal studies. These studies have been applied to certain neurological and psychiatric disorders to investigate their pathophysiology. For example, PAS induced plasticity is enhanced in dystonia and stroke but is reduced in Huntington’s disease and schizophrenia. Furthermore, TMS may be used to modulate brain plasticity and has therapeutic potential in neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and depression.
The authors are with the Division of Neurology, Dept. of Medicine, University of Toronto, and the Division of Brain Imaging & Behaviour Systems–Neuroscience, Toronto Western Research Institute, Toronto, Ontario.