We investigated whether cortico-spinal excitability (CSE), a marker of synaptic plasticity, is associated with age-related differences in the consolidation of motor memory. Young and older participants practiced a visuomotor tracking task. Skill retention was assessed 8 and 24 hours after motor practice. Transcranial magnetic stimulation applied over the primary motor cortex at rest and during an isometric muscle contraction was used to assess absolute and normalized to baseline CSE at different points after practice. When skill performance was normalized to baseline level, both groups showed similar gains in acquisition, but the young group showed better retention 24 hours after practice. The young group also showed greater absolute CSE assessed during the isometric muscle contraction. Although young participants with greater absolute CSE showed better skill retention, it was the capacity to increase CSE after motor practice, and not absolute CSE, what was associated with skill retention in older participants. Older adults who have the capacity to increase CSE during motor memory consolidation show a better capacity to retain motor skills.
Keywords: Aging; Cortico-spinal excitability; Motor memory consolidation; Skill learning; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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