Only the fastest corticospinal fibers contribute to beta corticomuscular coherence

Ibanez J, Del Vecchio A, Rothwell JC, Baker SN, Farina D (2021)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2021


Pages Range: JN-RM-2908-20

DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2908-20.2021


Human corticospinal transmission is commonly studied using brain stimulation. However, this approach is biased to activity in the fastest conducting axons. It is unclear whether conclusions obtained in this context are representative of volitional activity in mild-to-moderate contractions. An alternative to overcome this limitation may be to study the corticospinal transmission of endogenously generated brain activity. Here, we investigate in humans (N = 19; of either sex), the transmission speeds of cortical β rhythms (∼20 Hz) traveling to arm (first dorsal interosseous) and leg (tibialis anterior; TA) muscles during tonic mild contractions. For this purpose, we propose two improvements for the estimation of corticomuscular β transmission delays. First, we show that the cumulant density (cross-covariance) is more accurate than the commonly-used directed coherence to estimate transmission delays in bidirectional systems transmitting band-limited signals. Second, we show that when spiking motor unit activity is used instead of interference electromyography, corticomuscular transmission delay estimates are unaffected by the shapes of the motor unit action potentials (MUAPs). Applying these improvements, we show that descending corticomuscular β transmission is only 1–2 ms slower than expected from the fastest corticospinal pathways. In the last part of our work, we show results from simulations using estimated distributions of the conduction velocities for descending axons projecting to lower motoneurons (from macaque histologic measurements) to suggest two scenarios that can explain fast corticomuscular transmission: either only the fastest corticospinal axons selectively transmit β activity, or else the entire pool does. The implications of these two scenarios for our understanding of corticomuscular interactions are discussed.


We present and validate an improved methodology to measure the delay in the transmission of cortical β activity to tonically-active muscles. The estimated corticomuscular β transmission delays obtained with this approach are remarkably similar to those expected from transmission in the fastest corticospinal axons. A simulation of β transmission along a pool of corticospinal axons using an estimated distribution of fiber diameters suggests two possible mechanisms by which fast corticomuscular transmission is achieved: either a very small fraction of the fastest descending axons transmits β activity to the muscles or, alternatively, the entire population does and natural cancellation of slow channels occurs because of the distribution of axon diameters in the corticospinal tract.

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Ibanez, J., Del Vecchio, A., Rothwell, J.C., Baker, S.N., & Farina, D. (2021). Only the fastest corticospinal fibers contribute to beta corticomuscular coherence. Journal of Neuroscience, JN-RM-2908-20.


Ibanez, Jaime, et al. "Only the fastest corticospinal fibers contribute to beta corticomuscular coherence." Journal of Neuroscience (2021): JN-RM-2908-20.

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