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Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 1;54(1):32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.08.013. Epub 2010 Aug 12.

Manual activity shapes structure and function in contralateral human motor hand area.

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Department of Neurology, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany.


From longitudinal voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies we know that relatively short periods of training can increase regional grey matter volume in trained cortical areas. In 14 right-handed patients with writer's cramp, we employed VBM to test whether suppression (i.e., immobilization) or enhancement (i.e., training) of manual activity lead to opposing changes in grey matter in the contralateral primary motor hand area (M1(HAND)). We additionally used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to evaluate concurrent changes in regional excitability. Patients were recruited from a clinical trial which was designed to improve handwriting-associated dystonia. Initially the dystonic hand was immobilized for 4 weeks with the intention to reverse faulty plasticity. After immobilization, patients accomplished a motor re-training for 8 weeks. T1-weighted MRIs of the whole brain and single-pulse TMS measurements of the resting motor threshold (RMT) were performed every 4 weeks. Immobilization of the right hand resulted in a relative grey matter decrease in the contralateral left M1(HAND) along with a decrease in corticomotor excitability as indexed by an increase in RMT. Subsequent training reversed the effects of immobilization, causing an increase in regional grey matter density and excitability of left M1(HAND). The relative changes in grey matter correlated with the relative shifts in RMT. This prospective within-subject VBM study in task-specific hand dystonia shows that the grey matter density of M1(HAND) is dynamically shaped by the level of manual activity. This bi-directional structural plasticity is functionally relevant as local grey matter changes are mirrored by changes in regional excitability.

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