Motor cortical plasticity to training started in childhood: The example of piano players

Raffaella Chieffo, Laura Straffi, Alberto Inuggi, Javier J. Gonzalez-Rosa, Francesca Spagnolo, Elisabetta Coppi, Arturo Nuara, Elise Houdayer, Giancarlo Comi, Letizia Leocani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Converging evidence suggest thatmotor training is associated with early and late changes of the cortical motor system. Transcranialmagnetic stimulation (TMS) offers the possibility to study plastic rearrangements of the motor system in physiological and pathological conditions. We used TMS to characterize long- Termchanges in upper limb motor cortical representation and interhemispheric inhibition associated with bimanual skill training in pianists who started playing in an early age. Ipsilateral silent period (ISP) and cortical TMS mapping of handmuscles were obtained from 30 strictly right-handed subjects (16 pianists, 14 naïve controls), together with electromyographic recording of mirror movements (MMs) to voluntary hand movements. In controls,motor cortical representation of hand muscles was larger on the dominant (DH) than on the non-dominant hemisphere (NDH). On the contrary, pianists showed symmetric cortical output maps, being their DH less represented than in controls. In naïve subjects, the ISP was smaller on the right vs left abductor pollicis brevis (APB) indicating a weaker inhibition from the NDH to the DH. In pianists, interhemispheric inhibition was more symmetric as their DH was better inhibited than in controls. Electromyographic MMs were observed only in naïve subjects (7/14) and only to voluntary movement of the non-dominant hand. Subjects withMM had a lower ISP area on the right APB compared with all the others. Our findings suggest a more symmetrical motor cortex organization in pianists, both in terms of muscle cortical representation and interhemispheric inhibition. Although we cannot disentangle trainingrelated frompreexisting conditions, it is possible that long- Termbimanual practicemay reshape motor cortical representation and rebalance interhemispheric interactions, which in naïve right-handed subjects would both tend to favour the dominant hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0157952
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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