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Understanding Variable Motor Responses to Direct Electrical Stimulation of the Human Motor Cortex During Brain Surgery


Direct electrical stimulation of the brain is the gold standard technique used to define functional-anatomical relationships during neurosurgical procedures. Areas that respond to stimulation are considered "critical nodes" of circuits that must remain intact for the subject to maintain the ability to perform certain functions, like moving and speaking. Despite its routine use, the neurophysiology underlying downstream motor responses to electrical stimulation of the brain, such as muscle contraction or movement arrest, is poorly understood. Furthermore, varying and sometimes counterintuitive responses can be seen depending on how and where the stimulation is applied, even within the human primary motor cortex. Therefore, here we review relevant neuroanatomy of the human motor system, provide a brief historical perspective on electrical brain stimulation, explore mechanistic variations in stimulation applications, examine neurophysiological properties of different parts of the motor system, and suggest areas of future research that can promote a better understanding of the interaction between electrical stimulation of the brain and its function.

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