Skill learning induced plasticity of motor cortical representations is time and age-dependent

Kelly A. Tennant, DeAnna L. Adkins, Matthew D. Scalco, Nicole A. Donlan, Aaron L. Asay, Nagheme Thomas, Jeffrey Kleim, Theresa A. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Movement representations in the motor cortex can reorganize to support motor skill learning during young adulthood. However, little is known about how motor representations change during aging or whether their change is influenced by continued practice of a skill after it is learned. We used intracortical microstimulation to characterize the organization of the forelimb motor cortex in young and aged C57/BL6 mice after short (2-4. weeks) or long (8. weeks) durations of training on a skilled reaching task or control procedures. In young mice, a short duration of reach training increased the area of proximal forelimb movement representations at the expense of distal representations. Following a longer training duration, ratios of proximal to distal movements returned to baseline, even with ongoing practice and skill maintenance. However, lingering changes were evident in thresholds for eliciting distal forelimb movements, which declined over the longer training period. In aged mice, movement representations and movement thresholds failed to change after either duration of training. Furthermore, there was an age-related loss of digit representations and performance decrements on other sensorimotor tests. Nevertheless, in quantitative measures of reaching success, aged mice learned and performed the skilled reaching task at least as well as younger mice. These results indicate that experience-driven topographical reorganization of motor cortex varies with age, as well as time, and is partially dissociable from behavioral performance. They also support an enduring capacity to learn new manual skills during aging, even as more youthful forms of cortical plasticity and sensorimotor function are lost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-302
Number of pages12
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Aging
  • Forelimb
  • Intracortical microstimulation
  • Map plasticity
  • Motor cortex
  • Skilled reaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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