Background: Neuro-imaging studies demonstrate plasticity of cortical gray matter before and after practice for some motor and cognitive tasks in adults. Other imaging studies show functional changes after practice, but there is not yet direct evidence of how structural and functional changes may be related. A fundamental question is whether they occur at the same cortical sites, adjacent sites, or sites in other parts of a network.
Findings: Using a 3 T MRI, we obtained structural and functional images in adolescent girls before and after practice on a visual-spatial problem-solving computer game, Tetris. After three months of practice, compared to the structural scans of controls, the group with Tetris practice showed thicker cortex, primarily in two areas: left BAs 6 and 22/38. Based on fMRI BOLD signals, the Tetris group showed cortical activations throughout the brain while playing Tetris, but significant BOLD decreases, mostly in frontal areas, were observed after practice. None of these BOLD decreases, however, overlapped with the cortical thickness changes.
Conclusion: Regional cortical thickness changes were observed after three months of Tetris practice. Over the same period, brain activity decreases were observed in several other areas. These data indicate that structural change in one brain area does not necessarily result in functional change in the same location, at least on the levels assessed with these MRI methods.