In search of the motor engram: motor map plasticity as a mechanism for encoding motor experience

Neuroscientist. 2005 Oct;11(5):471-83. doi: 10.1177/1073858405278015.


Motor skill acquisition occurs through modification and organization of muscle synergies into effective movement sequences. The learning process is reflected neurophysiologically as a reorganization of movement representations within the primary motor cortex, suggesting that the motor map is a motor engram. However, the specific neural mechanisms underlying map plasticity are unknown. Here the authors review evidence that 1) motor map topography reflects the capacity for skilled movement, 2) motor skill learning induces reorganization of motor maps in a manner that reflects the kinematics of acquired skilled movement, 3) map plasticity is supported by a reorganization of cortical microcircuitry involving changes in synaptic efficacy, and 4) motor map integrity and topography are influenced by various neurochemical signals that coordinate changes in cortical circuitry to encode motor experience. Finally, the role of motor map plasticity in recovery of motor function after brain damage is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology