Dynamic properties of human brain structure: learning-related changes in cortical areas and associated fiber connections

J Neurosci. 2010 Sep 1;30(35):11670-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2567-10.2010.


Recent findings in neuroscience suggest that adult brain structure changes in response to environmental alterations and skill learning. Whereas much is known about structural changes after intensive practice for several months, little is known about the effects of single practice sessions on macroscopic brain structure and about progressive (dynamic) morphological alterations relative to improved task proficiency during learning for several weeks. Using T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging in humans, we demonstrate significant gray matter volume increases in frontal and parietal brain areas following only two sessions of practice in a complex whole-body balancing task. Gray matter volume increase in the prefrontal cortex correlated positively with subject's performance improvements during a 6 week learning period. Furthermore, we found that microstructural changes of fractional anisotropy in corresponding white matter regions followed the same temporal dynamic in relation to task performance. The results make clear how marginal alterations in our ever changing environment affect adult brain structure and elucidate the interrelated reorganization in cortical areas and associated fiber connections in correlation with improvements in task performance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult