Acute exercise enhances the response to paired associative stimulation-induced plasticity in the primary motor cortex
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There is evidence that a single session of aerobic exercise can modulate intracortical inhibition. While decreases in inhibition appear to be a necessary precursor to the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP)-like plasticity, it is not known whether aerobic exercise can enhance the response to LTP induction. We investigated whether the addition of a preceding bout of exercise would modulate the response to paired associative stimulation (PAS) of the upper limb. It was hypothesized that exercise would enhance motor cortical (M1) excitability following PAS compared to a session of PAS alone. Ten healthy individuals underwent a control session involving PAS alone and an exercise session where PAS was preceded by 20 min of moderate-intensity stationary biking. PAS involved 180 pairs of stimuli (right median nerve, left M1) delivered at 0.1 Hz to the right abductor pollicis brevis representation. Excitability changes were measured by the area under a stimulus-response curve, and intracortical circuits were probed by testing short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI), long-interval intracortical inhibition and intracortical facilitation. Two-way ANOVAs were conducted to compare excitability changes between sessions. PAS-induced increases in M1 excitability were enhanced in the exercise session (p < 0.026). In addition, SICI was differentially modulated between the two sessions, with greater decreases in SICI observed immediately after PAS when it was preceded by the exercise session (p < 0.03). Aerobic exercise enhances the effectiveness of PAS and may be a useful adjunct to traditional therapies and interventions that aim to promote neuroplasticity in cortical networks.
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