Cortical stimulation mapping is a valuable tool to test the functional organization of the motor cortex in both basic neurophysiology (e.g., elucidating the process of motor plasticity) and clinical practice (e.g., before resecting brain tumors involving the motor cortex). However, compilation of motor maps based on the motor threshold (MT) requires a large number of cortical stimulations and is therefore time consuming. Shortening the time for mapping may reduce stress on the subjects and unveil short-term plasticity mechanisms. In this study, we aimed to establish a cortical stimulation mapping procedure in which the time needed to identify a motor area is reduced to the order of minutes without compromising reliability. We developed an automatic motor mapping system that applies epidural cortical surface stimulations (CSSs) through one-by-one of 32 micro-electrocorticographic electrodes while examining the muscles represented in a cortical region. The next stimulus intensity was selected according to previously evoked electromyographic responses in a closed-loop fashion. CSS was repeated at 4 Hz and electromyographic responses were submitted to a newly proposed algorithm estimating the MT with smaller number of stimuli with respect to traditional approaches. The results showed that in all tested rats (n = 12) the motor area maps identified by our novel mapping procedure (novel MT algorithm and 4-Hz CSS) significantly correlated with the maps achieved by the conventional MT algorithm with 1-Hz CSS. The reliability of the both mapping methods was very high (intraclass correlation coefficients ≥0.8), while the time needed for the mapping was one-twelfth shorter with the novel method. Furthermore, the motor maps assessed by intracortical microstimulation and the novel CSS mapping procedure in two rats were compared and were also significantly correlated. Our novel mapping procedure that determined a cortical motor area within a few minutes could help to study the functional significance of short-term plasticity in motor learning and recovery from brain injuries. Besides this advantage, particularly in the case of human patients or experimental animals that are less trained to remain at rest, shorter mapping time is physically and mentally less demanding and might allow the evaluation of motor maps in awake individuals as well.
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