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Motor adaptation is crucial for performing accurate movements in a changing environment and relies on the cerebellum. Although cerebellar involvement has been well characterized, the neurochemical changes in the cerebellum underpinning human motor adaptation remain unknown. We used a novel magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) technique to measure changes in the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the human cerebellum during visuomotor adaptation. Participants (n = 17, six female) used their right hand to adapt to a rotated cursor in the scanner, compared with a control task requiring no adaptation. We spatially resolved adaptation-driven GABA changes at the cerebellar nuclei and cerebellar cortex in the left and the right cerebellar hemisphere independently and found that simple right-hand movements increase GABA in the right cerebellar nuclei and decreases GABA in the left. When isolating adaptation-driven GABA changes, we found that GABA in the left cerebellar nuclei and the right cerebellar nuclei diverged, although GABA change from baseline at the right cerebellar nuclei was not different from zero at the group level. Early adaptation-driven GABA fluctuations in the right cerebellar nuclei correlated with adaptation performance. Participants showing greater GABA decrease adapted better, suggesting early GABA change is behaviorally relevant. Early GABA change also correlated with functional connectivity change in a cerebellar network. Participants showing greater decreases in GABA showed greater strength increases in cerebellar network connectivity. Results were specific to GABA, to adaptation, and to the cerebellar network. This study provides first evidence for plastic changes in cerebellar neurochemistry during motor adaptation. Characterizing these naturally occurring neurochemical changes may provide a basis for developing therapeutic interventions to facilitate human motor adaptation.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Neuroscience

Publication Date





7721 - 7732