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Neural Plast. 2013;2013:396865. doi: 10.1155/2013/396865. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

Time of day does not modulate improvements in motor performance following a repetitive ballistic motor training task.

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Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.


Repetitive performance of a task can result in learning. The neural mechanisms underpinning such use-dependent plasticity are influenced by several neuromodulators. Variations in neuromodulator levels may contribute to the variability in performance outcomes following training. Circulating levels of the neuromodulator cortisol change throughout the day. High cortisol levels inhibit neuroplasticity induced with a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) paradigm that has similarities to use-dependent plasticity. The present study investigated whether performance changes following a motor training task are modulated by time of day and/or changes in endogenous cortisol levels. Motor training involving 30 minutes of repeated maximum left thumb abduction was undertaken by twenty-two participants twice, once in the morning (8 AM) and once in the evening (8 PM) on separate occasions. Saliva was assayed for cortisol concentration. Motor performance, quantified by measuring maximum left thumb abduction acceleration, significantly increased by 28% following training. Neuroplastic changes in corticomotor excitability of abductor pollicis brevis, quantified with TMS, increased significantly by 23% following training. Training-related motor performance improvements and neuroplasticity were unaffected by time of day and salivary cortisol concentration. Although similar neural elements and processes contribute to motor learning, training-induced neuroplasticity, and TMS-induced neuroplasticity, our findings suggest that the influence of time of day and cortisol differs for these three interventions.

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