Repeated unilateral handgrip contractions alter functional connectivity and improve contralateral limb response times.
Andrushko JW., Levenstein JM., Zich C., Edmond EC., Campbell J., Clarke WT., Emir U., Farthing JP., Stagg CJ.
In humans, motor learning is underpinned by changes in sensorimotor network functional connectivity (FC). Unilateral contractions increase FC in the ipsilateral primary motor cortex (M1) and supplementary motor area (SMA); areas involved in motor planning and execution of the contralateral hand. Therefore, unilateral contractions are a promising approach to augment motor performance in the contralateral hand. In a within-participant, randomized, cross-over design, 15 right-handed adults had two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions, where functional-MRI and MR-Spectroscopic Imaging were acquired before and after repeated right-hand contractions at either 5% or 50% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). Before and after scanning, response times (RTs) were determined in both hands. Nine minutes of 50% MVC contractions resulted in decreased handgrip force in the contracting hand, and decreased RTs and increased handgrip force in the contralateral hand. This improved motor performance in the contralateral hand was supported by significant neural changes: increased FC between SMA-SMA and increased FC between right M1 and right Orbitofrontal Cortex. At a neurochemical level, the degree of GABA decline in left M1, left and right SMA correlated with subsequent behavioural improvements in the left-hand. These results support the use of repeated handgrip contractions as a potential modality for improving motor performance in the contralateral hand.