The regional specificity and functional significance of learning-dependent synaptogenesis within physiologically defined regions of the adult motor cortex are described. In comparison to rats in a motor activity control group, rats trained on a skilled reaching task exhibited an areal expansion of wrist and digit movement representations within the motor cortex. No expansion of hindlimb representations was seen. This functional reorganization was restricted to the caudal forelimb area, as no differences in the topography of movement representations were observed within the rostral forelimb area. Paralleling the physiological changes, trained animals also had significantly more synapses per neuron than controls within layer V of the caudal forelimb area. No differences in the number of synapses per neuron were found in either the rostral forelimb or hindlimb areas. This is the first demonstration of the co-occurrence of functional and structural plasticity within the same cortical regions and provides strong evidence that synapse formation may play a role in supporting learning-dependent changes in cortical function.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science.