Motor cortical plasticity in response to skill acquisition in adult monkeys
. 2020-02-28; :
Cortical maps often undergo plastic changes during learning or in response to injury. In sensory areas, these changes are thought to be triggered by alterations in the pattern of converging inputs and a functional reassignment of the deprived cortical region. In the motor cortex, training on a task that engages distal effectors was shown to increase their cortical representation (as measured by response to intracortical microstimulation). However, this expansion could be a specific outcome of using a demanding dexterous task. We addressed this question by measuring the long-term changes in cortical maps of monkeys that were sequentially trained on two different tasks involving either proximal or distal joints. We found that motor cortical remodeling in adult monkeys was symmetric such that both distal and proximal movements can comparably alter motor maps in a fully reversible manner according to task demands. Further, we found that the change in mapping often included a switch between remote joints (e.g., a finger site switched to a shoulder site) and reflected a usage-consistent reorganization of the map rather than the local expansion of one representation into nearby sites. Finally, although cortical maps were considerably affected by the performed task, motor cortical neurons throughout the motor cortex were equally likely to fire in a task-related manner independent of the task and/or the recording site. These results may imply that in the motor system, enhanced motor efficiency is achieved through a dynamical allocation of larger cortical areas and not by specific recruitment of task-relevant cells.