Strengthening of horizontal cortical connections following skill learning

Nat Neurosci. 1998 Jul;1(3):230-4. doi: 10.1038/678.


Learning a new motor skill requires an alteration in the spatiotemporal pattern of muscle activation. Motor areas of cerebral neocortex are thought to be involved in this type of learning, possibly by functional reorganization of cortical connections. Here we show that skill learning is accompanied by changes in the strength of connections within adult rat primary motor cortex (M1). Rats were trained for three or five days in a skilled reaching task with one forelimb, after which slices of motor cortex were examined to determine the effect of training on the strength of horizontal intracortical connections in layer II/III. The amplitude of field potentials in the forelimb region contralateral to the trained limb was significantly increased relative to the opposite 'untrained' hemisphere. No differences were seen in the hindlimb region. Moreover, the amount of long-term potentiation (LTP) that could be induced in trained M1 was less than in controls, suggesting that the effect of training was at least partly due to LTP-like mechanisms. These data represent the first direct evidence that plasticity of intracortical connections is associated with learning a new motor skill.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reference Values