Changes in corticospinal excitability during consolidation predict acute exercise-induced off-line gains in procedural memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2016 Dec;136:196-203. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.10.009. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


A single bout of cardiovascular exercise performed immediately after practicing a motor task improves the long-term retention of the skill through an optimization of memory consolidation. However, the specific brain mechanisms underlying the effects of acute cardiovascular exercise on procedural memory are poorly understood. We sought to determine if a single bout of exercise modifies corticospinal excitability (CSE) during the early stages of memory consolidation. In addition, we investigated if changes in CSE are associated with exercise-induced off-line gains in procedural memory. Participants practiced a serial reaction time task followed by either a short bout of acute exercise or a similar rest period. To monitor changes in CSE we used transcranial magnetic stimulation applied to the primary motor cortex (M1) at baseline, 15, 35, 65 and 125min after exercise or rest. Participants in the exercise condition showed larger (∼24%) improvements in procedural memory through consolidation although differences between groups did not reach statistical significance. Exercise promoted an increase in CSE, which remained elevated 2h after exercise. More importantly, global increases in CSE following exercise correlated with the magnitude of off-line gains in skill level assessed in a retention test performed 8h after motor practice. A single bout of exercise modulates short-term neuroplasticity mechanisms subserving consolidation processes that predict off-line gains in procedural memory.

Keywords: Cardiovascular exercise; Long-term potentiation; Motor evoked potentials; Motor memory; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult