Adaptive Motor Imagery: A Multimodal Study of Immobilization-Induced Brain Plasticity

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The consequences of losing the ability to move a limb are traumatic. One approach that examines the impact of pathological limb nonuse on the brain involves temporary immobilization of a healthy limb. Here, we investigated immobilization-induced plasticity in the motor imagery (MI) circuitry during hand immobilization. We assessed these changes with a multimodal paradigm, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure neural activation, magnetoencephalography (MEG) to track neuronal oscillatory dynamics, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to assess corticospinal excitability. fMRI results show a significant decrease in neural activation for MI of the constrained hand, localized to sensorimotor areas contralateral to the immobilized hand. MEG results show a significant decrease in beta desynchronization and faster resynchronization in sensorimotor areas contralateral to the immobilized hand. TMS results show a significant increase in resting motor threshold in motor cortex contralateral to the constrained hand, suggesting a decrease in corticospinal excitability in the projections to the constrained hand. These results demonstrate a direct and rapid effect of immobilization on MI processes of the constrained hand, suggesting that limb nonuse may not only affect motor execution, as evidenced by previous studies, but also MI. These findings have important implications for the effectiveness of therapeutic approaches that use MI as a rehabilitation tool to ameliorate the negative effects of limb nonuse.

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