Temporary occlusion of associative motor cortical plasticity by prior dynamic motor training

Katja Stefan, Matthias Wycislo, Reinhard Gentner, Axel Schramm, Markus Naumann, Karlheinz Reiners, Joseph Classen
Cerebral Cortex 2006, 16 (3): 376-85
A novel Hebbian stimulation paradigm was employed to examine physiological correlates of motor memory formation in humans. Repetitive pairing of median nerve stimulation with transcranial magnetic stimulation over the contralateral motor cortex (paired associative stimulation, PAS) may decrease human motor cortical excitability at interstimulus intervals of 10 ms (PAS10) or increase excitability at 25 ms (PAS25). The properties of this plasticity have previously been shown to resemble associative timing-dependent long-term depression (LTD) and long-term potentiation (LTP) as established in vitro. Immediately after training a novel dynamic motor task, the capacity of the motor cortex to undergo plasticity in response to PAS25 was abolished. PAS10-induced plasticity remained unchanged. When retested after 6 h, PAS25-induced plasticity recovered to baseline levels. After training, normal PAS25-induced plasticity was observed in the contralateral training-naive motor cortex. Motor training did not reduce the efficacy of PAS25 to enhance cortical excitability when PAS10 was interspersed between the training and application of the PAS25 protocol. This indicated that the mechanism supporting PAS25-induced plasticity had remained intact immediately after training. Behavioral evidence was obtained for continued optimization of force generation at a time when PAS25-induced plasticity was blocked in the training motor cortex. Application of the PAS protocols after motor training did not prevent the consolidation of motor skills evident as performance gains at later retesting. The results are consistent with a concept of temporary suppression of associative cortical plasticity by neuronal mechanisms involved in motor training. Although it remains an open question exactly which element of motor training was responsible for this effect, our findings may link dynamic properties of LTP formation, as established in animal experiments, with human motor memory formation and possibly dynamic motor learning.

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