Background:Valeriana officinalis extract (VE) is a popular herbal medicine used for the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. Although the anxiolytic and sedative effects are mainly attributed to the modulation of GABA-ergic transmission, the mechanism of action has not been fully investigated in humans. Noninvasive brain stimulation protocols can be used to elucidate the mechanisms of action of psychoactive substances at the cortical level in humans. In this study, we investigated the effects of a single dose of VE on cortical excitability as assessed with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Methods: Fifteen healthy volunteers participated in a double-blind, randomized, cross-over, placebo-controlled study. Subjects were required to take either 900 mg of VE (valerenic acid 0.8%) or placebo (an equal dose of vitamin E). Motor cortex excitability was studied by single and paired TMS before and at 1 h and 6 h after the oral administration. Cortical excitability was assessed using different TMS parameters: resting motor threshold, motor-evoked potential amplitude, cortical silent period, short-interval intracortical inhibition, and intracortical facilitation. Furthermore, we assessed sensorimotor integration by short-latency and long-latency afferent inhibition. Results: We found a significant reduction in ICF, without any significant changes in other TMS measures of motor cortex excitability. The amount of ICF returned to baseline value 6 h after the intake of the VE. Conclusion: A single oral dose of VE modulates intracortical facilitatory circuits. Our results in healthy subjects could be predictive markers of treatment response in patients and further support the use of pharmaco-TMS to investigate the neuropsychiatric effects of herbal therapies in humans.

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