Motor neuroplasticity: A MEG-fMRI study of motor imagery and execution in healthy ageing

Neuropsychologia. 2020 Sep;146:107539. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107539. Epub 2020 Jul 3.


Age-related decline in motor function is associated with over-activation of the sensorimotor circuitry. Using a multimodal MEG-fMRI paradigm, we investigated whether this neural over-recruitment in old age would be related to changes in movement-related beta desynchronization (MRBD), a correlate of the inhibitory neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and whether it would characterize compensatory recruitment or a reduction in neural specialization (dedifferentiation). We used MEG to assess age-related changes in beta band oscillations in primary motor cortices, fMRI to localize age-related changes in brain activity, and the Finger Configuration Task to measure task performance during overt and covert motor processing: motor execution (ME) and motor imagery (MI). The results are threefold: first, showing age-related neuroplasticity during ME of older adults, compared to young adults, as evidenced by increased MRBD in motor cortices and over-recruitment of sensorimotor areas; second, showing similar age-related neuroplastic changes during MI; and finally, showing signs of dedifferentiation during ME in older adults whose performance negatively correlated with connectivity to bilateral primary motor cortex. Together, these findings demonstrate that elevated MRBD levels, reflecting greater GABAergic inhibitory activity, and over-activation of the sensorimotor network during ME may not be compensatory, but rather might reflect an age-related decline of the quality of the underlying neural signal.

Keywords: Ageing; Compensation; Dedifferentiation; Motor execution; Motor imagery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Healthy Aging / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*