Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Learning and plasticity in the healthy motor system

Normal motor learning provides a useful framework for understanding plastic changes that may be important in disease. Our work has shown that short-term learning of a novel movement skill is associated with changes in brain activity and levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. We have shown that variation in short-term motor skill learning is associated with variation in functional responses and structural properties of brain areas for motor control. 

Prolonged practice of a motor task over a period of weeks produces further changes in brain activation and also results in changes in brain structure. For example, we previously showed that when healthy adults learn to juggle, this changes the structure of white matter pathways in their brains. We are now testing whether factors such as performance level or amount of practice influence brain changes. Additionally, the combination of MRI and histology in model systems will allow us to specifically explore cellular mechanisms in white matter that underlie changes detected by MRI.

Investigators:  Cassandra Sampaio, Velicia Bachtiar, Antoin de Weijer, James Kolasinski, Charlie Stagg, Heidi Johansen-Berg

Collaborators:  Jan Scholz, David Bannerman, Niki Sibson, Alexandr Krapichev, Gabriele De Luca, Paul Bolam

Current Funders:  Wellcome Trust; NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford

Selected publications

  1. Johansen-Berg H, Baptista CS, Thomas A (2012). Human structural plasticity at record speed. Neuron. 73; 1058-60. 2012
  2. Zatorre RJ, Fields RD, Johansen-Berg H (2012).  Plasticity in gray and white: Neuroimaging changes in brain structure during learning. Nature Neuroscience.  15. 528-36. 2012
  3. Stagg CJ, Bachtiar V, and Johansen-Berg H (2011). The role of GABA in human motor learning. Curr Biol 21(6):480-484.
  4. Sampaio-Baptista C, Khrapitchev AA, Foxley S, Schlagheck T, Scholz J, Jbabdi, S, DeLuca GC, Miller KL, Taylor A, Thomas N, Kleim J, Sibson NR, Bannerman D, and Johansen-Berg H (2013). Motor skill learning induces changes in white matter microstructure and myelination. J Neurosci 33(50):19499-503.
  5. Scholz J, Klein MC, Behrens TE, and Johansen-Berg H (2009). Training induces changes in white-matter architecture Nat Neurosci 12(11):1370-1371.