Transcranial magnetic stimulation and the motor learning-associated cortical plasticity

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It has been well established that repetitive motor performance and skill learning alter the functional organization of human corticomotoneuronal system. Over the past decade, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has helped to demonstrate motor practice and learning-related changes in corticomotoneuronal excitability and representational plasticity. It has also provided some insights into the mechanisms underlying such plasticity. TMS-derived indices show that motor practice, skill acquisition and learning are associated with an increase in cortical excitability and a modulation of intracortical inhibition partly related to the amount of GABA-related inhibition. It has been suggested that these changes in excitability might be related to learning and motor memory formation in the motor cortex. However, it has proved difficult to relate different aspects of TMS-derived representational plasticity with specific behavioral outcomes. A better understanding of the relationship between TMS measurements of practice-related cortical plasticity and underlying mechanisms, in the context of associated changes in behavior, will facilitate the development of techniques and protocols that will allow predictable modulation of cortical plasticity in health and disease.

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