The role of spatial attention in modulating plasticity in the human motor cortex.

Alexander Ryan (2010). The role of spatial attention in modulating plasticity in the human motor cortex. Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Alexander Ryan
Thesis Title The role of spatial attention in modulating plasticity in the human motor cortex.
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Kamke, Marc
Total pages 88
Abstract/Summary Neural plasticity refers to the central nervous system's ability to change in response to both environmental and developmental factors. Such plasticity allows us to learn new skills, adapt to new environments, and recover lost functioning resulting from trauma to the brain. This research aims to investigate how the direction of spatial attention may influence plasticity in the human motor cortex. To do this a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), was used to induce and measure plasticity in the left thumb muscle. Specifically, a paired associative stimulation (PAS) protocol was used whereby peripheral nerve stimulation is repetitively paired with TMS in the contralateral hemisphere. Both stimulations provide input to a common motor area where after repetitive pairing is thought to induce motor cortical plasticity. Participants (N=12) underwent PAS in three separate conditions: attention was covertly oriented towards the hand receiving PAS (left attention), towards the opposite hand (right attention), or to a central location. Results indicated that plasticity, measured as an increase in motor responses in the left thumb, were significantly larger when attention was directed towards the left thumb compared to the right thumb. PAS-induced increases in plasticity were the largest in the left condition although not significantly larger than the central attention condition. These results suggest that spatial attention is capable of modulating plasticity in the human motor cortex. Importantly, if spatial attention does facilitate motor cortical plasticity, controlling the direction of attention during motor rehabilitation following brain injury may increase the efficacy of rehabilitation procedures.

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Created: Mon, 04 Apr 2011, 15:53:15 EST by Lucy O'Brien on behalf of School of Psychology