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Motor learning and neuroplasticity in humans

Teo, J.T.H.; (2009) Motor learning and neuroplasticity in humans. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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The central nervous system is plastic, in that the number and strength of synaptic connections changes over time. In the adult the most important driver of such changes is experience, in the form of learning and memory. There are thought to be a number of rules, operating relatively local to each synapse that govern changes in strength and organisation. Some of these such as Hebbian plasticity or plasticity following repeated activation of a connection have been studied in detail in animal preparations. However, recent work with non-invasive methods of transcranial stimulation in human, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, has opened the opportunity to study similar effects in the conscious human brain. In this thesis I use these methods to explore some of the presumed changes in synaptic connectivity in the motor cortex during different forms of motor learning. The experiments only concern learning in the healthy brain; however it seems likely that the same processes will be relevant to neurorehabilitation and disease of the nervous system. This thesis explores the link between neuroplasticity and motor learning in humans using non-invasive brain stimulation, pharmacological agents and psychomotor testing in 6 related studies. 1) Chapter 3 reports initial pharmacological investigations to confirm the idea that some of the long term effects of TMS are likely to involve LTP-like mechanisms. The study shows that NMDA agonism can affect the response to a repetitive form of TMS known as theta burst stimulation (TBS) 2) Following up on the initial evidence for the role of NMDA receptors in the long term effects of TBS, Chapter 4 explores the possible modulatory effects of dopaminergic drugs on TBS. 3) Chapter 5 takes the investigations to normal behaviours by examining how the NMDA dependent plasticity produced by TBS interacts with learning a simple motor task of rapid thumb abduction. The unexpected results force a careful examination of the possible mechanisms of motor learning in this task. 4) Chapter 6 expands on these effects by employing a battery of TMS methods as well as drug agents to examine the role of different intracortical circuits in ballistic motor learning. 5) Chapter 7 studies the plasticity of intracortical circuits involved in transcallosal inhibition. 6) Chapter 8 studies the interaction between synaptic plasticity invoked by TBS and sequence learning. The studies described in the thesis contribute to understanding of how motor learning and neuroplasticity interact, and possible strategies to enhance these phenomena for clinical application.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Motor learning and neuroplasticity in humans
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Department of Neuromuscular Diseases
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/17592
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