Recruitment of prefrontal-striatal circuit in response to skilled motor challenge

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A variety of physical fitness regimens have been shown to improve cognition, including executive function, yet our understanding of which parameters of motor training are important in optimizing outcomes remains limited. We used functional brain mapping to compare the ability of two motor challenges to acutely recruit the prefrontal-striatal circuit. The two motor tasks – walking in a complex running wheel with irregularly spaced rungs or walking in a running wheel with a smooth internal surface – differed only in the extent of skill required for their execution. Cerebral perfusion was mapped in rats by intravenous injection of [14C]-iodoantipyrine during walking in either a motorized complex wheel or in a simple wheel. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was quantified by whole-brain autoradiography and analyzed in three-dimensional reconstructed brains by statistical parametric mapping and seed-based functional connectivity. Skilled or simple walking compared with rest, increased rCBF in regions of the motor circuit, somatosensory and visual cortex, as well as the hippocampus. Significantly greater rCBF increases were noted during skilled walking than for simple walking. Skilled walking, unlike simple walking or the resting condition, was associated with a significant positive functional connectivity in the prefrontal-striatal circuit (prelimbic cortex–dorsomedial striatum) and greater negative functional connectivity in the prefrontal-hippocampal circuit. Our findings suggest that the level of skill of a motor training task determines the extent of functional recruitment of the prefrontal-corticostriatal circuit, with implications for a new approach in neurorehabilitation that uses circuit-specific neuroplasticity to improve motor and cognitive functions.

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