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Time-sensitive enhancement of motor learning with the less-affected forelimb after unilateral sensorimotor cortex lesions in rats


Dr T. A. Jones, 2Psychology Department, as above.


Unilateral damage to the forelimb region of the sensorimotor cortex (FLsmc) results in time-dependent changes in neuronal activity, structure and connectivity in the contralateral motor cortex of adult rats. These changes have been linked to facilitation of motor skill learning in the less-affected/ipsilesional forelimb, which is likely to promote its use in the development of behavioral compensation. The goal of this study was to determine whether an early post-lesion-sensitive time period exists for this enhanced learning and whether it is linked to synaptogenesis in the contralesional motor cortex. Rats were trained for 21 days on a skilled reaching task with the ipsilesional forelimb beginning 4 or 25 days after unilateral ischemic (endothelin-1-induced) FLsmc lesions or sham operations. As found previously, reaching performance was significantly enhanced in rats trained early post-lesion compared with sham-operates. In rats trained later post-lesion, performance was neither significantly different from time-matched sham-operates nor strikingly different from animals trained earlier post-lesion. In layer V of the contralesional motor cortex, stereological methods for light and electron microscopy revealed significantly more total, multisynaptic bouton and perforated synapses per neuron compared with sham-operates, but there were no significant differences between early- and late-trained lesion groups. Thus, there appears to be a sensitive time window for the maximal expression of the enhanced learning capacity of the less-affected forelimb but this window is broadly, rather than sharply, defined. These results indicate that relatively long-lasting lesion-induced neuronal changes are likely to underlie the facilitation of learning with the less-affected forelimb.