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J Neurosci. 1996 Jan 15;16(2):785-807.

Use-dependent alterations of movement representations in primary motor cortex of adult squirrel monkeys.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Texas Medical School at Houston 77030, USA.


This study was undertaken to document plastic changes in the functional topography of primary motor cortex (M1) that are generated in motor skill learning in the normal, intact primate. Intracortical microstimulation mapping techniques were used to derive detailed maps of the representation of movements in the distal forelimb zone of M1 of squirrel monkeys, before and after behavioral training on two different tasks that differentially encouraged specific sets of forelimb movements. After training on a small-object retrieval task, which required skilled use of the digits, their evoked-movement digit representations expanded, whereas their evoked-movement wrist/forearm representational zones contracted. These changes were progressive and reversible. In a second motor skill exercise, a monkey pronated and supinated the forearm in a key (eyebolt)-turning task. In this case, the representation of the forearm expanded, whereas the digit representational zones contracted. These results show that M1 is alterable by use throughout the life of an animal. These studies also revealed that after digit training there was an areal expansion of dual-response representations, that is, cortical sectors over which stimulation produced movements about two or more joints. Movement combinations that were used more frequently after training were selectively magnified in their cortical representations. This close correspondence between changes in behavioral performance and electrophysiologically defined motor representations indicates that a neurophysiological correlate of a motor skill resides in M1 for at least several days after acquisition. The finding that cocontracting muscles in the behavior come to be represented together in the cortex argues that, as in sensory cortices, temporal correlations drive emergent changes in distributed motor cortex representations.

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