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J Neurosci. 2017 Aug 2;37(31):7500-7512. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3414-16.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 3.

Cooperation Not Competition: Bihemispheric tDCS and fMRI Show Role for Ipsilateral Hemisphere in Motor Learning.

Author information

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Institute of Neurology, and.
Sobell Department for Motor Neuroscience and Motor Disorders, University College London, London WC1 3AR, United Kingdom, and.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience,
Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, London, Ontario N6A 5B7, Canada.


What is the role of ipsilateral motor and premotor areas in motor learning? One view is that ipsilateral activity suppresses contralateral motor cortex and, accordingly, that inhibiting ipsilateral regions can improve motor learning. Alternatively, the ipsilateral motor cortex may play an active role in the control and/or learning of unilateral hand movements. We approached this question by applying double-blind bihemispheric transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over both contralateral and ipsilateral motor cortex in a between-group design during 4 d of unimanual explicit sequence training in human participants. Independently of whether the anode was placed over contralateral or ipsilateral motor cortex, bihemispheric stimulation yielded substantial performance gains relative to unihemispheric or sham stimulation. This performance advantage appeared to be supported by plastic changes in both hemispheres. First, we found that behavioral advantages generalized strongly to the untrained hand, suggesting that tDCS strengthened effector-independent representations. Second, functional imaging during speed-matched execution of trained sequences conducted 48 h after training revealed sustained, polarity-independent increases in activity in both motor cortices relative to the sham group. These results suggest a cooperative rather than competitive interaction of the two motor cortices during skill learning and suggest that bihemispheric brain stimulation during unimanual skill learning may be beneficial because it harnesses plasticity in the ipsilateral hemisphere.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Many neurorehabilitation approaches are based on the idea that is beneficial to boost excitability in the contralateral hemisphere while attenuating that of the ipsilateral cortex to reduce interhemispheric inhibition. We observed that bihemispheric transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with the excitatory anode either over contralateral or ipsilateral motor cortex facilitated motor learning nearly twice as strongly as unihemispheric tDCS. These increases in motor learning were accompanied by increases in fMRI activation in both motor cortices that outlasted the stimulation period, as well as increased generalization to the untrained hand. Collectively, our findings suggest a cooperative rather than a competitive role of the hemispheres and imply that it is most beneficial to harness plasticity in both hemispheres in neurorehabilitation of motor deficits.


interhemispheric communication; neurostimulation; plasticity

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