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Virtual reality action observation and motor imagery to enhance neuroplastic capacity in the human motor cortex: A pilot double-blind, randomized cross-over trial.

Neuroscience 2024 May 4
Neuroplasticity is important for learning, development and recovery from injury. Therapies that can upregulate neuroplasticity are therefore of interest across a range of fields. We developed a novel virtual reality action observation and motor imagery (VR-AOMI) intervention and evaluated whether it could enhance the efficacy of mechanisms of neuroplasticity in the human motor cortex of healthy adults. A secondary question was to explore predictors of the change in neuroplasticity following VR-AOMI. A pre-registered, pilot randomized controlled cross-over trial was performed. Twenty right-handed adults (13 females; mean age: 23.0 ± 4.53 years) completed two experimental conditions in separate sessions; VR-AOMI and control. We used intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) to induce long term potentiation-like plasticity in the motor cortex and recorded motor evoked potentials at multiple timepoints as a measure of corticospinal excitability. The VR-AOMI task did not significantly increase the change in MEP amplitude following iTBS when compared to the control task (Group x Timepoint interaction p = 0.17). However, regression analysis identified the change in iTBS response following VR-AOMI was significantly predicted by the baseline iTBS response in the control task. Specifically, participants that did not exhibit the expected increase in MEP amplitude following iTBS in the control condition appear to have greater excitability following iTBS in the VR-AOMI condition (r = -0.72, p < 0.001). Engaging in VR-AOMI might enhance capacity for neuroplasticity in some people who typically do not respond to iTBS. VR-AOMI may prime the brain for enhanced neuroplasticity in this sub-group.

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