Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 205, Issue 1, pp 57–68 | Cite as

Hemispheric differences in use-dependent corticomotor plasticity in young and old adults

  • John Cirillo
  • Nigel C. Rogasch
  • John G. SemmlerEmail author
Research Article


The aim of this study was to examine corticomotor excitability and plasticity following repetitive thumb abduction training in left and right hands of young and old adults. Electromyographic recordings were obtained from the abductor pollicis brevis (APB) muscle of 12 young (aged 18–27 years) and 14 old (aged 63–75 years) adults. Motor training consisted of 300 ballistic abductions of the thumb to maximize peak abduction acceleration, with each hand tested in a separate session. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the primary motor cortex (M1) was used to assess changes in contralateral APB motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) and short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) before and after training. For young and old adults, APB MEP amplitude increased for both hands after training, which is indicative of use-dependent plasticity. However, the increase in MEP amplitude was 21% (P = 0.04) greater in the left (non-dominant) hand compared with the right (dominant) hand. This occurred despite a 40% greater improvement in peak thumb abduction acceleration (motor learning) for the right hand in young subjects compared with the left hand in young subjects (P < 0.04) and the right hand in old subjects (P < 0.01). Furthermore, no difference in use-dependent plasticity was observed between young and old adults, and SICI remained unchanged following ballistic training for both hands in all subjects. These findings suggest that there is greater strengthening of corticomotor circuits for control of the left compared with the right hand during simple ballistic thumb training and that an age-related decline in motor learning was observed only in the dominant hand. In contrast to previous studies, these data also indicate that young and old adults can demonstrate similar use-dependent corticomotor plasticity during this simple thumb-training task.


Motor cortex Hemispheres Aging Transcranial magnetic stimulation Motor training Plasticity 



A grant from the National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) of Australia supported this work. This study forms part of the PhD of John Cirillo, who is supported by the University of Adelaide Postgraduate Research Scholarship.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Cirillo
    • 1
  • Nigel C. Rogasch
    • 1
  • John G. Semmler
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Discipline of Physiology, School of Medical SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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