A Checklist to Reduce Response Variability in Studies Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Assessment of Corticospinal Excitability: A Systematic Review of the Literature

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Response variability between individuals (interindividual variability) and within individuals (intraindividual variability) is an important issue in the transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) literature. This has raised questions of the validity of TMS to assess changes in corticospinal excitability (CSE) in a predictable and reliable manner. Several participant-specific factors contribute to this observed response variability with a current lack of consensus on the degree each factor contributes. This highlights a need for consistency and structure in reporting study designs and methodologies. Currently, there is no summarized review of the participant-specific factors that can be controlled and may contribute to response variability. This systematic review aimed to develop a checklist of methodological measures taken by previously published research to increase the homogeneity of participant selection criteria, preparation of participants before experimental testing, participant scheduling, and the instructions given to participants throughout experimental testing to minimize their effect on response variability. Seven databases were searched in full. Studies were included if CSE was measured via TMS and included methodological measures to increase the homogeneity of the participants. Eighty-four studies were included. Twenty-three included measures to increase participant selection homogeneity, 21 included measures to increase participant preparation homogeneity, while 61 included measures to increase participant scheduling and instructions during experimental testing homogeneity. These methodological measures were summarized into a user-friendly checklist with considerations, suggestions, and rationale/justification for their inclusion. This may provide the framework for further insights into ways to reduce response variability in TMS research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-71
Number of pages19
JournalBrain Connectivity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • corticospinal excitability
  • interindividual variability
  • intraindividual variability
  • noninvasive brain stimulation
  • participant homogeneity
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

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