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J Neurosci. 2008 Apr 16;28(16):4210-5. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5722-07.2008.

Gray matter increase induced by practice correlates with task-specific activation: a combined functional and morphometric magnetic resonance imaging study.

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Department of Neurology, Technische Universität München, 81675 Munich, Germany.


The neurophysiological basis of practice-induced gray matter increase is unclear. To study the relationship of practice-induced gray matter changes and neural activation, we conducted a combined longitudinal functional and morphometric (voxel-based morphometry) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study on mirror reading. Compared with normal reading, mirror reading resulted in an activation of the dorsolateral occipital cortex, medial occipital cortex, superior parietal cortex, medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, as well as anterior insula and cerebellum. Daily practice of 15 min for 2 weeks resulted in an increased performance of mirror reading. After correction for pure performance effects, we found a practice-related decrease of activation at the right superior parietal cortex and increase of activation at the right dorsal occipital cortex. The longitudinal voxel-based morphometry analysis yielded an increase of gray matter in the right dorsolateral occipital cortex that corresponded to the peak of mirror-reading-specific activation. This confirms that short-term gray matter signal increase corresponds to task-specific processing. We speculate that practice-related gray matter signal changes in MRI are primarily related to synaptic remodeling within specific processing areas.

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