The dynamics of cortical GABA in human motor learning.
The ability to learn new motor skills is supported by plasticity in the structural and functional organisation of the primary motor cortex in the human brain. Changes inhibitory to signalling by GABA are thought to be crucial in inducing motor cortex plasticity. This study used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to quantify the concentration of GABA in human motor cortex during a period of motor learning, as well as during a period of movement and a period at rest. We report evidence for a reduction in the MRS-measured concentration of GABA specific to learning. Further, the GABA concentration early in the learning task was strongly correlated with the magnitude of subsequent learning: higher GABA concentrations were associated with poorer learning. The results provide initial insight into the neurochemical correlates of cortical plasticity associated with motor learning, specifically relevant in therapeutic efforts to induce cortical plasticity during recovery from stroke.