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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Neurol. | doi: 10.3389/fneur.2019.01242

Weaker Inter-Hemispheric and Local Functional Connectivity of the Somatomotor Cortex during a Motor Skill Acquisition is Associated with Better Learning

 Ella Gabitov1, 2*,  Ovidiu Lungu3, 4,  Genevieve Albouy5 and Julien Doyon1, 2
  • 1McGill University, Canada
  • 2McConnell Brain Imaging Center, Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal University, Canada
  • 3Université de Montréal, Canada
  • 4Unité de neuroimagerie fonctionelle, Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, Canada
  • 5KU Leuven, Belgium

Recently, an increasing interest in investigating interactions between brain regions using functional connectivity (FC) methods has shifted the initial focus of cognitive neuroimaging research from localizing functional circuits based on task activation to mapping brain networks based on intrinsic FC dynamics. Leveraging the advantages of the latter approach, it has been shown that despite primarily invariant intrinsic organization of the large-scale functional networks, interactions between and within these networks significantly differ between various behavioral and cognitive states. These differences presumably indicate transient reconfiguration of functional connections – an instantaneous process that flexibly mediates and calibrates human behavior according to momentary demands of the environment. Nevertheless, the specificity of these reconfigured FC patterns to the task at hand and their relevance to adaptive processes during learning remain elusive. To address this knowledge gap, we investigated (1) to what extent FC within the somatomotor network is reconfigured during motor skill practice, and (2) how these changes are related to learning. We applied a seed-driven FC approach to data collected during a continuous task-free condition, so-called resting state, and during a motor sequence learning task using functional magnetic resonance imaging. During the task, participants repeatedly performed a short 5-element sequence with their non-dominant (left) hand. As predicted, such unimanual sequence production was associated with lateralized activation of the right somatomotor cortex (SMC). Using this “active” region as a seed, here we show that unimanual performance of the motor sequence relies on functional segregation between the two SMC and selective integration between the “active” SMC and supplementary motor area. Whereas greater segregation between the two SMC was associated with gains in performance rate, greater segregation within the “active” SMC itself was associated with more consistent performance by the end of training. Nether the resting-state FC patterns within the somatomotor network nor their relative modulation by the task state predicted these behavioral benefits of learning. Our results suggest that task-induced FC changes reflect reconfiguration of the connectivity patterns within the somatomotor network rather than a simple amplification or silencing of its intrinsic dynamics. Such reconfiguration not only supports motor behavior but may also predict learning.

Keywords: Motor Cortex, motor learning, motor sequence, memory representation, functional connectivity, fMRI — functional magnetic resonance imaging, resting state, task activation

Received: 10 Aug 2019; Accepted: 07 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Gabitov, Lungu, Albouy and Doyon. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Ella Gabitov, McGill University, Montreal, H3A 0G4, Quebec, Canada, gabitovella@gmail.com