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J Neurosci. 2004 Jan 21;24(3):628-33.

Cortical synaptogenesis and motor map reorganization occur during late, but not early, phase of motor skill learning.

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  • 1Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4.


Extensive motor skill training induces reorganization of movement representations and synaptogenesis within adult motor cortex. Motor skill does not, however, develop uniformly across training sessions. It is characterized by an initial fast phase, followed by a later slow phase of learning. How cortical plasticity emerges during these phases is unknown. Here, we examine motor map topography and synapse number within rat motor cortex during the early and late phases of motor learning. Adult rats were placed in either a skilled or unskilled reaching condition (SRC and URC, respectively) for 3, 7, or 10 d. Intracortical microstimulation of layer V was used to determine the topography of forelimb movement representations within caudal forelimb area of motor cortex contralateral to the trained paw. Quantitative electron microscopy was used to measure the number of synapses per neuron within layer V. SRC animals showed significant increases in reaching accuracy after 3, 7, and 10 d of training. In comparison with URC animals, SRC animals had significantly larger distal forelimb representations after 10 d of training only. Furthermore, SRC animals had significantly more synapses per neuron than URC animals after 7 and 10 d of training. These results show that both motor map reorganization and synapse formation occur during the late phase of skill learning. Furthermore, synaptogenesis precedes map reorganization. We propose that motor map reorganization and synapse formation do not contribute to the initial acquisition of motor skills but represent the consolidation of motor skill that occurs during late stages of training.

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