Transcranial magnetic stimulation has been used in a double pulse paradigm to investigate the excitability of intrinsic motor cortical circuits in 15 patients with focal task specific dystonia of the right hand and a group of eight age matched controls. The left hemisphere was examined in five patients; in the remainder, both hemispheres were tested. There was no significant difference in stimulation threshold between patients and controls nor between the left and right hemispheres in the patients. There was a significant decrease in early corticocortical suppression when comparing stimulation of the left hemisphere in the patients and controls at interstimulus intervals of 1-15 ms (P < 0.01). There was no difference in the amount of suppression in the right and left hemispheres of the patients. It is concluded that in focal task specific dystonia there is shift in the balance between excitation and inhibition in local circuits of the motor cortex which leads to a net decrease in the amount of short latency suppression. These changes reflect disturbed basal ganglia input to the motor cortex. Reduced excitability of cortical inhibitory circuits may be one factor which contributes to the excessive and inappropriate muscle contraction which occurs during fine motor tasks in patients with focal dystonia.