The minimal number of TMS trials required for the reliable assessment of corticospinal excitability, short interval intracortical inhibition, and intracortical facilitation

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Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-induced motor evoked potentials (MEPs) are frequently used to assess corticospinal and intercortical activities. Trial to trial variance of the potentials is commonly observed, and averages of multiple MEPs are usually reported. Multiple trials have resources implications and are not compatible with some experimental protocols. This study investigated the minimum number of MEPs required to reliably assess corticospinal excitability (CSE), short interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) and intercortical facilitation (ICF), within and between sessions. Fifteen healthy volunteers received 35 single-pulse TMS for CSE assessments and 35 paired-pulse TMS for SICI and ICF measurements. Intra- and intersession reliability were examined using intra-class correlation coefficient tests, and stability of the measures was assessed using a general equation estimation analysis. Coefficients of variation were used to probe the effects of inter-individual variability on reliability results. All analyses were carried out on cumulative averages. The optimal number of trials to ensure “excellent” intra and inter-session reliability with low inter-individual variability and the highest level of stability was found to be 20 for CSE and 26 for SICI assessments. Although 30 consecutive trials produced highly reliable ICF measures within a session, inter-session reliability was not significant across 35 trials. These findings have significant implications for improving time efficiency of TMS experiments without compromising intra- or intersession reliability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-100
Number of pages7
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • ICF
  • Motor evoked potential
  • Reliability
  • SIC
  • TMS
  • Variability

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