Brain changes following four weeks of unimanual motor training: Evidence from behavior, neural stimulation, cortical thickness, and functional MRI.

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Abstract

Although different aspects of neuroplasticity can be quantified with behavioral probes, brain stimulation, and brain imaging assessments, no study to date has combined all these approaches into one comprehensive assessment of brain plasticity. Here, 24 healthy right-handed participants practiced a sequence of finger-thumb opposition movements for 10 min each day with their left hand. After 4 weeks, performance for the practiced sequence improved significantly (P < 0.05 FWE) relative to a matched control sequence, with both the left (mean increase: 53.0% practiced, 6.5% control) and right (21.0%; 15.8%) hands. Training also induced significant (cluster p-FWE < 0.001) reductions in functional MRI activation for execution of the trained sequence, relative to the control sequence. These changes were observed as clusters in the premotor and supplementary motor cortices (right hemisphere, 301 voxel cluster; left hemisphere 700 voxel cluster), and sensorimotor cortices and superior parietal lobules (right hemisphere 864 voxel cluster; left hemisphere, 1947 voxel cluster). Transcranial magnetic stimulation over the right ("trained") primary motor cortex yielded a 58.6% mean increase in a measure of motor evoked potential amplitude, as recorded at the left abductor pollicis brevis muscle. Cortical thickness analyses based on structural MRI suggested changes in the right precentral gyrus, right post central gyrus, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and potentially the right supplementary motor area. Such findings are consistent with LTP-like neuroplastic changes in areas that were already responsible for finger sequence execution, rather than improved recruitment of previously nonutilized tissue. Hum Brain Mapp 38:4773-4787, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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