Synaptogenesis and Fos expression in the motor cortex of the adult rat after motor skill learning

J Neurosci. 1996 Jul 15;16(14):4529-35. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.16-14-04529.1996.


Recent work has suggested that changes in synapse number as well as changes in the expression of the Fos protein may occur within the motor cortex in association with motor learning. The number of synapses per neuron and the percentage of Fos-positive neurons within layer II/III of the rat motor cortex was measured after training on a complex motor learning task. Adult female rats were allocated randomly to either an acrobatic condition (AC), a motor control condition (MC), or an inactive control condition (IC). AC animals were trained to traverse a complex series of obstacles, and each AC animal was pair matched with an MC animal that traversed an obstacle-free runway. IC animals received no motor training. Animals from each condition were killed at various points during training, and unbiased stereological techniques were used to estimate the number of synapses per neuron and the percentage of Fos-positive cells within layer II/III of the motor cortex. AC animals exhibited an overall increase in the number of synapses per neuron in comparison to MC and IC animals at later stages of training. AC animals also had a significantly higher overall percentage of Fos-positive cells in comparison to both controls, with a trend for the increase to be greater during the acquisition versus the maintenance phase. These data suggest that Fos may be involved in the biochemical processes underlying skill acquisition and that motor learning, as opposed to motor activity, leads to increases in synapse number in the motor cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Motor Cortex / metabolism*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos