Surround inhibition depends on the force exerted and is abnormal in focal hand dystonia.
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There is evidence that surround inhibition (SI), a neural mechanism to enhance contrast between signals, may play a role in primary motor cortex during movement initiation, while it is deficient in patients with focal hand dystonia (FHD). To further characterize SI with respect to different force levels, single- and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation was applied at rest and during index finger movement to evoke potentials in the nonsynergistic, abductor policis muscle. In Experiment 1, in 19 healthy volunteers, SI was tested using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Motor-evoked potentials at rest were compared with those during contraction using four different force levels [5, 10, 20, and 40% of maximum force (F(max))]. In Experiments 2 and 3, SI and short intracortical inhibition (SICI) were tested, respectively, in 16 patients with FHD and 20 age-matched controls for the 10% and 20% F(max) levels. SI was most pronounced for 10% F(max) and abolished for the 40% F(max) level in controls, whereas FHD patients had no SI at all. In contrast, a loss of SICI was observed in FHD patients, which was more pronounced for 10% F(max) than for 20% F(max). Our results suggest that SI is involved in the generation of fine finger movements with low-force levels. The greater loss of SICI for the 10% F(max) level in patients with FHD than for the 20% F(max) level indicates that this inhibitory mechanism is more abnormal at lower levels of force.