One hour of tongue-task training is associated with plasticity in corticomotor control of the human tongue musculature

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Corticomotor control of the human tongue has been reported to undergo neuroplastic changes following several days of training in a tongue-protrusion task. The aims of the present study were to determine if a 1 h tongue-task training is sufficient to induce signs of neuroplastic changes in the corticomotor pathways, and to obtain preliminary information on the time course of such changes. Corticomotor excitability was assessed by changes in electromyographic activity evoked by transcortical magnetic stimulation (TMS) in 11 healthy subjects. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) recorded in the tongue musculature and the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle were assessed at four sessions: at baseline before training, 30 min after training, and 1 and 7 days after training. All subjects performed successfully the task (success rate: 38±4%). Thresholds for evoking MEPs by TMS in the tongue were decreased at 30 min, 1 and 7 days after training compared with baseline (ANOVA: P<0.001). Tongue MEP amplitudes were significantly increased at 1 day follow-up and had returned to baseline values at 7 days follow-up (ANOVA: P<0.001). No significant effect of tongue-task training on FDI MEPs was observed (ANOVA: P=0.160). Corticomotor topographic maps revealed increases (ANOVA: P<0.001) in area at the 1 day follow-up. The success rate was significantly correlated to the net increases in tongue MEPs at 1 day follow-up (Spearman: 0.615; P=0.0039). The present findings confirm that tongue task training is associated with plasticity of corticomotor excitability specifically related to the tongue musculature and further document that plasticity is evident within 30 min post-training and may last up to at least 7 days.

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