Structural plasticity following focal neocortical damage in adult rats has recently been found to be sensitive to postinjury rehabilitative training. Experience on a complex motor skills task, the acrobatic task, after unilateral lesions of the forelimb representation region of the sensorimotor cortex (FLsmc) enhanced synaptic structural changes in the cortex contralateral and homotopic to the lesions. Using tissue from this previous study, the present study examined whether a heterotopic region of the sensorimotor cortex of either hemisphere, the hindlimb representation area (HLsmc), would undergo structural changes following unilateral FLsmc lesions and whether these changes would also be sensitive to postinjury training on the acrobatic task. Stereological methods for light and electron microscopy were used to assess structural changes in lesion or sham-operated rats following 28 days of postoperative acrobatic training or simple repetitive exercise (motor controls). In the HLsmc contralateral to the lesions of rats receiving acrobatic training, there was a subtle, but significant, increase in cortical volume and in layer II/III neuropil and dendritic volume per neuron in comparison to shams. In rats receiving simple exercise after the lesions, these changes were not significantly different from shams. Acrobatic training also prevented a loss of cortical volume in the HLsmc adjacent to the lesion in comparison to shams. These data suggest that behavioral training following cortical injury facilitates structural plasticity in behaviorally relevant areas of the neocortex other than the homotopic cortex contralateral to the lesion. This structural plasticity might be relevant to the development of behavioral compensation after cortical injury.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.