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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2000 Jul;74(1):27-55.

Effects of repetitive motor training on movement representations in adult squirrel monkeys: role of use versus learning.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Texas-Houston, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Current evidence indicates that repetitive motor behavior during motor learning paradigms can produce changes in representational organization in motor cortex. In a previous study, we trained adult squirrel monkeys on a repetitive motor task that required the retrieval of food pellets from a small-diameter well. It was found that training produced consistent task-related changes in movement representations in primary motor cortex (M1) in conjunction with the acquisition of a new motor skill. In the present study, we trained adult squirrel monkeys on a similar motor task that required pellet retrievals from a much larger diameter well. This large-well retrieval task was designed to produce repetitive use of a limited set of distal forelimb movements in the absence of motor skill acquisition. Motor activity levels, estimated by the total number of finger flexions performed during training, were matched between the two training groups. This experiment was intended to evaluate whether simple, repetitive motor activity alone is sufficient to produce representational plasticity in cortical motor maps. Detailed analysis of the motor behavior of the monkeys indicates that their retrieval behavior was highly successful and stereotypical throughout the training period, suggesting that no new motor skills were learned during the performance of the large-well retrieval task. Comparisons between pretraining and posttraining maps of M1 movement representations revealed no task-related changes in the cortical area devoted to individual distal forelimb movement representations. We conclude that repetitive motor activity alone does not produce functional reorganization of cortical maps. Instead, we propose that motor skill acquisition, or motor learning, is a prerequisite factor in driving representational plasticity in M1.

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