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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Oct;22(10):2365-74. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr316. Epub 2011 Nov 10.

Repeatedly pairing vagus nerve stimulation with a movement reorganizes primary motor cortex.

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  • 1School of Behavioral Brain Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX 75080-3021, USA.


Although sensory and motor systems support different functions, both systems exhibit experience-dependent cortical plasticity under similar conditions. If mechanisms regulating cortical plasticity are common to sensory and motor cortices, then methods generating plasticity in sensory cortex should be effective in motor cortex. Repeatedly pairing a tone with a brief period of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) increases the proportion of primary auditory cortex responding to the paired tone (Engineer ND, Riley JR, Seale JD, Vrana WA, Shetake J, Sudanagunta SP, Borland MS, Kilgard MP. 2011. Reversing pathological neural activity using targeted plasticity. Nature. 470:101-104). In this study, we predicted that repeatedly pairing VNS with a specific movement would result in an increased representation of that movement in primary motor cortex. To test this hypothesis, we paired VNS with movements of the distal or proximal forelimb in 2 groups of rats. After 5 days of VNS movement pairing, intracranial microstimulation was used to quantify the organization of primary motor cortex. Larger cortical areas were associated with movements paired with VNS. Rats receiving identical motor training without VNS pairing did not exhibit motor cortex map plasticity. These results suggest that pairing VNS with specific events may act as a general method for increasing cortical representations of those events. VNS movement pairing could provide a new approach for treating disorders associated with abnormal movement representations.

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