Motor imagery is defined as the mental execution of a movement without any muscle activity. In the present study, corticospinal excitability was assessed by motor evoked potentials (MEPs) when the subjects imagined isometric elbow flexion at various force levels. Electromyography was recorded from the right brachioradialis, the biceps brachii and the triceps brachii muscles. First, the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) of elbow flexion was recorded in each subject. Subjects practiced performing 10, 30 and 60 % MVC using visual feedback. After the practice, MEPs were recorded during the imagery of elbow flexion with the forces of 10, 30 and 60 % MVC without any feedback. After the MEPs recording, we assigned subjects to reproduce the actual elbow flexion force at 10, 30 and 60 % MVC. The MEPs amplitudes in the brachioradialis and biceps brachii in the 60 % MVC condition were significantly greater than those in the 10 % MVC condition (p < 0.05). These findings suggest that the enhancement of corticospinal excitability during motor imagery is associated with an increase in imagined force level.
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