The present study has investigated the long-term changes in the organisation of the corticomotor projection to the hand in a group of subjects who had sustained a subcortical hemispheric stroke up to 15 years previously and had subsequently recovered normal or near-normal motor function. Transcranial magnetic cortical stimulation (TMCS) was employed to map the topography of the primary corticomotor projection to the hand and to obtain measures of cortical motor threshold, long-latency intracortical inhibition and corticospinal conduction. Changes in motor threshold and in motor-evoked potential (MEP) amplitude and latency in keeping with persisting impairment of conduction in the corticospinal pathway were still present in the majority of subjects, whereas the duration of the post-MEP silent period, reflecting the strength of long-latency intracortical inhibition, was usually normal. Topographic shifts in the corticomotor representation relative to the unaffected side were found in the majority of subjects. In some the shifts were in the mediolateral axis suggesting reorganisation within the primary motor cortex, while in the others antcroposterior shifts were present in keeping with recruitment of premotor or postcentral cortex. The present findings indicate that changes in the physiological properties of the corticomotor projection to the hand are frequently present in subjects who have recovered motor function after a subcortical stroke and may persist indefinitely. We postulate that these changes are the result of reorganisation at cortical level and that cortical reorganisation is one of the processes which contribute to motor recovery after a subcortical lesion and which may compensate for persisting impairment of conduction in the corticospinal pathway. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.