Intensity Dependent Effect of Cognitive Training on Motor Cortical Plasticity and Cognitive Performance in Humans

SOURCE: Experimental Brain Research. 238(12):2805-2818, 2020 Dec.

AUTHORS: Berns C; Bruchle W; Scho S; Schneefeld J; Schneider U; Rosenkranz K

ABSTRACT: Intervention-induced neuroplastic changes within the motor or cognitive system have been shown in the human brain. While cognitive and motor brain areas are densely interconnected, it is unclear whether this interconnectivity allows for a shared susceptibility to neuroplastic changes. Using the preparation for a theoretical exam as training intervention that primarily engages the cognitive system, we tested the hypothesis whether neuroplasticity acts across interconnected brain areas by investigating the effect on excitability and synaptic plasticity in the motor cortex. 39 healthy students (23 female) underwent 4 weeks of cognitive training while revision time, physical activity, concentration, fatigue, sleep quality and stress were monitored. Before and after cognitive training, cognitive performance was evaluated, as well as motor excitability using transcranial magnetic stimulation and long-term-potentiation-like (LTP-like) plasticity using paired-associative-stimulation (PAS). Cognitive training ranged individually from 1 to 7 h/day and enhanced attention and verbal working memory. While motor excitability did not change, LTP-like plasticity increased in an intensity-depending manner: the longer the daily revision time, the smaller the increase of neuroplasticity, and vice versa. This effect was not influenced by physical activity, concentration, fatigue, sleep quality or stress. Motor cortical plasticity is strengthened by a behavioural intervention that primarily engages cognitive brain areas. We suggest that this effect is due to an enhanced susceptibility to LTP-like plasticity, probably induced by heterosynaptic activity that modulates postsynaptic excitability in motorcortical neurones. The smaller increase of PAS efficiency with higher cognitive training intensity suggests a mechanism that balances and stabilises the susceptibility for synaptic potentiation.