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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Dec;101(6):1776-82. Epub 2006 Sep 7.

Motor training induces experience-specific patterns of plasticity across motor cortex and spinal cord.

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Brain Rehabilitation Research Center, Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Hospital, Gainesville, FL, USA.


The motor cortex and spinal cord possess the remarkable ability to alter structure and function in response to differential motor training. Here we review the evidence that the corticospinal system is not only plastic but that the nature and locus of this plasticity is dictated by the specifics of the motor experience. Skill training induces synaptogenesis, synaptic potentiation, and reorganization of movement representations within motor cortex. Endurance training induces angiogenesis in motor cortex, but it does not alter motor map organization or synapse number. Strength training alters spinal motoneuron excitability and induces synaptogenesis within spinal cord, but it does not alter motor map organization. All three training experiences induce changes in spinal reflexes that are dependent on the specific behavioral demands of the task. These results demonstrate that the acquisition of skilled movement induces a reorganization of neural circuitry within motor cortex that supports the production and refinement of skilled movement sequences. We present data that suggest increases in strength may be mediated by an increased capacity for activation and/or recruitment of spinal motoneurons while the increased metabolic demands associated with endurance training induce cortical angiogenesis. Together these results show the robust pattern of anatomic and physiological plasticity that occurs within the corticospinal system in response to differential motor experience. The consequences of such distributed, experience-specific plasticity for the encoding of motor experience by the motor system are discussed.

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