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Long-term reorganization of human motor cortex driven by short-term sensory stimulation

Abstract

Removal of sensory input can induce changes in cortical motor representation that reverse when sensation is restored. Here we ask whether manipulation of sensory input can induce long-term reorganization in human motor cortex that outlasts the initial conditioning. We report that for at least 30 minutes after pharyngeal stimulation, motor cortex excitability and area of representation for the pharynx increased, while esophagus representation decreased, without parallel changes in the excitability of brainstem-mediated reflexes. Therefore increased sensory input can drive long-term cross-system changes in motor areas of the cerebral cortex, which suggests that sensory stimulation might rehabilitate dysphagia, a frequent consequence of cerebral injury.

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Figure 1: Changes in cortical swallowing motor pathway excitability by pharyngeal stimulation.
Figure 2: The reflex pharyngeal and esophageal EMG responses evoked by trigeminal nerve stimulation in one individual, before and after pharyngeal stimulation.
Figure 3: Changes in swallowing motor representation by pharyngeal stimulation.
Figure 4: MRI co-registration of scalp maps.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Mr A. Hobson and Ms J. Barlow in the Gastrointestinal Physiology Laboratory at Hope Hospital, Mr S. Larkin in the Manchester Visualization Centre, Manchester Computing, University of Manchester and Professor A. T. Smith in the Department of Psychology at the Royal Holloway College. KDS is funded by the Wellcome Trust. SH is a Medical Research Council Clinical Training Fellow.

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Correspondence to David G. Thompson.

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Hamdy, S., Rothwell, J., Aziz, Q. et al. Long-term reorganization of human motor cortex driven by short-term sensory stimulation. Nat Neurosci 1, 64–68 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/264

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