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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Jul 15;115(2):167-75. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00277.2012. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

Structural brain changes after 4 wk of unilateral strength training of the lower limb.

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MI-Lab, Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7489 Trondheim, Norway.


Strength training enhances muscular strength and neural drive, but the underlying neuronal mechanisms remain unclear. This study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify possible changes in corticospinal tract (CST) microstructure, cortical activation, and subcortical structure volumes following unilateral strength training of the plantar flexors. Mechanisms underlying cross-education of strength in the untrained leg were also investigated. Young, healthy adult volunteers were assigned to training (n = 12) or control (n = 9) groups. The 4 wk of training consisted of 16 sessions of 36 unilateral isometric plantar flexions. Maximum voluntary isometric contraction torque was tested pre- and posttraining. MRI investigation included a T1-weighted scan, diffusion tensor imaging and functional MRI. Probabilistic fiber tracking of the CST was performed on the diffusion tensor imaging images using a two-regions-of-interest approach. Fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity were calculated for the left and right CST in each individual before and after training. Standard functional MRI analyses and volumetric analyses of subcortical structures were also performed. Maximum voluntary isometric contraction significantly increased in both the trained and untrained legs of the training group, but not the control group. A significant decrease in mean diffusivity was found in the left CST following strength training of the right leg. No significant changes were detected in the right CST. No significant changes in cortical activation were observed following training. A significant reduction in left putamen volume was found after training. This study provides the first evidence for strength training-related changes in white matter and putamen in the healthy adult brain.


cross-education; diffusion tensor imaging; magnetic resonance imaging; neural adaptations

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