In 11 healthy subjects motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) and silent periods (SPs) were measured in the right first dorsal interosseus (FDI) and abductor pollicis brevis muscles (APB): (1) when transcranial magnetic cortex stimulation (TMS) was applied at tonic isometric contraction of 20% of maximum force, (2) when TMS was applied during tactile exploration of a small object in the hand, (3) when TMS was applied during visually guided goal-directed isometric ramp and hold finger flexion movements, and (4) when at tonic isometric contraction peripheral electrical stimulation (PES) of the median nerve was delivered at various intervals between PES and TMS. Of the natural motor tasks, duration of SPs of small hand muscles was longest during tactile exploration (APB 205+/-42 ms; FDI 213+/-47 ms). SP duration at tonic isometric contraction amounted to 172+/-35 ms in APB and 178+/-31 ms in FDI, respectively. SP duration in FDI was shortest when elicited during visually guided isometric finger movements (159+/-15 ms). At tonic isometric contraction, SP was shortened when PES was applied at latencies -30 to +70 ms in conjunction with TMS. The latter effect was most pronounced when PES was applied 20 ms before TMS. PES-induced effects increased with increasing stimulation strength up to a saturation level which appeared at the transition to painful stimulation strengths. Both isolated stimulation of muscle afferents and of low-threshold cutaneous afferents shortened SP duration. However, PES of the contralateral median nerve had no effect on SPs. Amplitudes of MEPs did not change significantly in any condition. Inhibitory control of motor output circuitries seems to be distinctly modulated by peripheral somatosensory and visual afferent information. We conclude that somatosensory information has privileged access to inhibitory interneuronal circuits within the primary motor cortex.