Motor skill learning may be enhanced by mild brain stimulation

January 19, 2009

People who received a mild electrical current to a motor control area of the brain were significantly better able to learn and perform a complex motor task than those in control groups. The findings could hold promise for enhancing rehabilitation for people with traumatic brain injury, stroke and other conditions.

The study is presented in the January 20, 2009 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The research team from NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) worked in collaboration with investigators at Columbia University in New York City and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Motor skills, which are used for activities from typing and driving, to sports, require practice and learning over a prolonged period of time. During practice, the brain encodes information about how to perform the task, but even during periods of rest, the brain is still at work strengthening the memory of doing the task. This process is known as consolidation.

Subjects in this study were presented with a novel and challenging motor task, which involved squeezing a "joy stick" to play a targeting game on a computer monitor, which they practiced over five consecutive days. During practice, one group received 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and the other group received only a 30 second "sham" stimulation. tDCS involves mild electrical stimulation applied through surface electrodes on the head, and works by modulating the excitability, or activity, of cells in the brain's outermost layers. In this study, Dr. Cohen and his team directed tDCS to the primary motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement.

Over the five-day training period, the skill of the tDCS group improved significantly more that that of the control (sham) group, apparently through an effect on consolidation. During the three month follow-up period, the two groups forgot the skill at about the same rate, but the tDCS group continued to perform better because they had learned the skill better by the end of training.

Source: NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Explore further: fMRI, EEG may detect consciousness in patients with acute, severe traumatic brain injury

Related Stories

fMRI, EEG may detect consciousness in patients with acute, severe traumatic brain injury

July 20, 2017
The use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) may be able to identify ICU patients with severe traumatic brain injuries who have a level of consciousness not revealed by the standard ...

The effects of childhood stroke on motor skills

July 19, 2017
Stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children, yet there is very little research around childhood stroke. Researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research institute (MCRI) have undertaken a first ever study to systematically ...

Toddler brain development: Bacterial clues found in dirty baby diapers

July 17, 2017
If you're the parent of an infant, diaper duty probably isn't your favorite part of the day. But you dutifully check the contents of each one because your pediatrician told you that color and consistency of what they leave ...

Why strength depends on more than muscle

July 10, 2017
A recent study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has given new meaning to the concept of brain power by suggesting that physical strength might stem as much from exercising the nervous system as the muscles it controls.

Learning with music can change brain structure, study shows

July 6, 2017
Using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain, according to a new study.

Small-molecule therapeutic boosts spatial memory and motor function in Rett syndrome mice

July 5, 2017
New research into Rett syndrome therapeutics suggests that a small molecule already reported to improve respiratory problems associated with the disease may also improve spatial memory and motor skill defects.

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.