GABA and gamma: Studying motor plasticity in vivo

How we learn new motor skills, such as learning to play the piano or play tennis, is a question of fundamental importance to everyday life. It also has direct relevance to how we might re-learn to move our hands after a brain injury such as a stroke. However, motor plasticity occurs across multiple spatial and temporal scales; from the synapse to the network and from effects lasting seconds to those lasting months or even years, making understanding these processes complex.

Here, I will discuss recent studies from my group studying the physiological basis of motor plasticity in vivo, in particular how changes across a wide range of spatial scales may interact to support functional improvements. To this end we have combined advanced neuroimaging, including MR Imaging, MR Spectroscopy and Magnetoencephalography, with non-invasive brain stimulation in humans; we have recently expanded into rodent models.

Taken together, these studies provide convergent evidence that changes in local and network-level inhibitory processing is a key component of motor learning. I will discuss how non-invasive brain stimulation may optimise motor learning in both healthy and clinical populations, and how optimising stimulation approaches may lead to enhanced behavioural gains.