Distinct types of neural reorganization during long-term learning

Journal of Neurophysiology
Xiao ZhouSteven M Chase

Abstract

What are the neural mechanisms of skill acquisition? Many studies find that long-term practice is associated with a functional reorganization of cortical neural activity. However, the link between these changes in neural activity and the behavioral improvements that occur is not well understood, especially for long-term learning that takes place over several weeks. To probe this link in detail, we leveraged a brain-computer interface (BCI) paradigm in which rhesus monkeys learned to master nonintuitive mappings between neural spiking in primary motor cortex and computer cursor movement. Critically, these BCI mappings were designed to disambiguate several different possible types of neural reorganization. We found that during the initial phase of learning, lasting minutes to hours, rapid changes in neural activity common to all neurons led to a fast suppression of motor error. In parallel, local changes to individual neurons gradually accrued over several weeks of training. This slower timescale cortical reorganization persisted long after the movement errors had decreased to asymptote and was associated with more efficient control of movement. We conclude that long-term practice evokes two distinct neural reorganization process...Continue Reading

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