Motor Imagery Learning Modulates Functional Connectivity
Background: Learning motor skills involves subsequent modulation of resting-state functional connectivity in the sensory- motor system. This idea was mostly derived from the investigations on motor execution learning which mainly recruits the processing of sensory-motor information. Behavioral evidences demonstrated that motor skills in our daily lives could be learned through imagery procedures. However, it remains unclear whether the modulation of resting-state functional connectivity also exists in the sensory-motor system after motor imagery learning.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We performed a fMRI investigation on motor imagery learning from resting state. Based on previous studies, we identified eight sensory and cognitive resting-state networks (RSNs) corresponding to the brain systems and further explored the functional connectivity of these RSNs through the assessments, connectivity and network strengths before and after the two-week consecutive learning. Two intriguing results were revealed: (1) The sensory RSNs, specifically sensory-motor and lateral visual networks exhibited greater connectivity strengths in precuneus and fusiform gyrus after learning; (2) Decreased network strength induced by learning was proved in the default mode network, a cognitive RSN.
Conclusions/Significance: These results indicated that resting-state functional connectivity could be modulated by motor imagery learning in multiple brain systems, and such modulation displayed in the sensory-motor, visual and default brain systems may be associated with the establishment of motor schema and the regulation of introspective thought. These findings further revealed the neural substrates underlying motor skill learning and potentially provided new insights into the therapeutic benefits of motor imagery learning.