Computational and experimental analysis of TMS-induced electric field vectors critical to neuronal activation

Todd D. Krieg, Felipe S. Salinas, Shalini Narayana, Peter T Fox, David J. Mogul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Objective. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) represents a powerful technique to noninvasively modulate cortical neurophysiology in the brain. However, the relationship between the magnetic fields created by TMS coils and neuronal activation in the cortex is still not well-understood, making predictable cortical activation by TMS difficult to achieve. Our goal in this study was to investigate the relationship between induced electric fields and cortical activation measured by blood flow response. Particularly, we sought to discover the E-field characteristics that lead to cortical activation. Approach. Subject-specific finite element models (FEMs) of the head and brain were constructed for each of six subjects using magnetic resonance image scans. Positron emission tomography (PET) measured each subject's cortical response to image-guided robotically-positioned TMS to the primary motor cortex. FEM models that employed the given coil position, orientation, and stimulus intensity in experimental applications of TMS were used to calculate the electric field (E-field) vectors within a region of interest for each subject. TMS-induced E-fields were analyzed to better understand what vector components led to regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) responses recorded by PET. Main results. This study found that decomposing the E-field into orthogonal vector components based on the cortical surface geometry (and hence, cortical neuron directions) led to significant differences between the regions of cortex that were active and nonactive. Specifically, active regions had significantly higher E-field components in the normal inward direction (i.e., parallel to pyramidal neurons in the dendrite-to-axon orientation) and in the tangential direction (i.e., parallel to interneurons) at high gradient. In contrast, nonactive regions had higher E-field vectors in the outward normal direction suggesting inhibitory responses. Significance. These results provide critical new understanding of the factors by which TMS induces cortical activation necessary for predictive and repeatable use of this noninvasive stimulation modality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number046014
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • PET
  • finite element modeling
  • neocortex
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Engineering


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