Challenging the brain: Exploring the link between effort and cortical activation
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To better understand the contributions of effort on cortical activation associated with motor tasks, healthy participants with varying capacities for isolating the control of individual finger movements performed tasks consisting of a single concurrent abduction of all digits (Easy) and paired finger abduction with digits 2 and 3 abducted together concurrently with digits 4 and 5 (Hard). Brain activity was inferred from measurement using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Effort was measured physiologically using electrodermal responses (EDR) and subjectively using the Borg scale. On average, the Borg score for the Hard task was significantly higher (p=0.007) than for the Easy task (2.9+/-1.1 vs. 1.4+/-0.7, respectively). Similarly, the average normalized peak-to-peak amplitude of the EDR was significantly higher (p=0.002) for the Hard task than for the Easy task (20.4+/-6.5% vs. 12.1+/-4.9%, respectively). The Hard task produced increases in sensorimotor network activation, including supplementary motor area, premotor, sensorimotor and parietal cortices, cerebellum and thalamus. When the imaging data were subdivided based on Borg score, there was an increase in activation and involvement of additional areas, including extrastriate and prefrontal cortices. Subdividing the data based on EDR amplitude produced greater effects including activation of the premotor and parietal cortices. These results show that the effort required for task performance influences the interpretation of fMRI data. This work establishes understanding and methodology for advancing future studies of the link between effort and motor control, and may be clinically relevant to sensorimotor recovery from neurologic injury.
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