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Neuromuscular Control and Plasticity Lab: Use-Dependent Neural Plasticity in Motor Cortex

 

The term "neural plasticity" describes the ability of the nervous system to endure experience-induced restructuring. Plasticity in the neural structures which control voluntary movement allows motor skill acquisition i.e. the ability to learn to play the piano or swing a golf club. More importantly, neuroplasticity also facilitates the recovery of motor function following stroke. Even though motor learning and long-term neuroplasticity may take place over weeks and months, we use laboratory techniques which are able to assess the neural correlates of a single 30-minute training session. Specifically, we assess use-dependent neuroplasticity by recording muscle responses (EMG) to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), applied to the human motor cortex, before and after repetitive training. The size of these muscle responses increases in muscles used during training, due to use-dependent excitability increases in the neural pathways which controlled the muscles used in the training. According to the procedures we use to assess plasticity, repetitive single-joint training in the human upper-limb induces the most plasticity in corticomotor structures controlling the distal upper-limb. Corticomotor plasticity is graded and decreases in structures controlling more proximal joints in the upper-limb. This implies that when quickly learning whole-limb tasks, structures other than corticomotor pathways may be relied on more heavily than when quickly learning distal tasks. These results are in submission.

 


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