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Beta and gamma oscillations are the dominant oscillatory activity in the human motor cortex (M1). However, their physiological basis and precise functional significance remain poorly understood. Here, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to examine the physiological basis and behavioral relevance of driving beta and gamma oscillatory activity in the human M1 using transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). tACS was applied using a sham-controlled crossover design at individualized intensity for 20 min and TMS was performed at rest (before, during, and after tACS) and during movement preparation (before and after tACS). We demonstrated that driving gamma frequency oscillations using tACS led to a significant, duration-dependent decrease in local resting-state GABAA inhibition, as quantified by short interval intracortical inhibition. The magnitude of this effect was positively correlated with the magnitude of GABAA decrease during movement preparation, when gamma activity in motor circuitry is known to increase. In addition, gamma tACS-induced change in GABAA inhibition was closely related to performance in a motor learning task such that subjects who demonstrated a greater increase in GABAA inhibition also showed faster short-term learning. The findings presented here contribute to our understanding of the neurophysiological basis of motor rhythms and suggest that tACS may have similar physiological effects to endogenously driven local oscillatory activity. Moreover, the ability to modulate local interneuronal circuits by tACS in a behaviorally relevant manner provides a basis for tACS as a putative therapeutic intervention.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Gamma oscillations have a vital role in motor control. Using a combined tACS-TMS approach, we demonstrate that driving gamma frequency oscillations modulates GABAA inhibition in the human motor cortex. Moreover, there is a clear relationship between the change in magnitude of GABAA inhibition induced by tACS and the magnitude of GABAA inhibition observed during task-related synchronization of oscillations in inhibitory interneuronal circuits, supporting the hypothesis that tACS engages endogenous oscillatory circuits. We also show that an individual's physiological response to tACS is closely related to their ability to learn a motor task. These findings contribute to our understanding of the neurophysiological basis of motor rhythms and their behavioral relevance and offer the possibility of developing tACS as a therapeutic tool.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





4481 - 4492


GABA inhibition, concurrent tACS and TMS, gamma oscillations, motor excitability, motor learning, tACS, Adult, Behavior, Cross-Over Studies, Electromyography, Evoked Potentials, Motor, Female, Humans, Interneurons, Learning, Magnetoencephalography, Male, Motor Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Receptors, GABA-A, Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Young Adult