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      The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers

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          Sensory input evokes low-order reflexes and higher-order perceptual responses. Vestibular stimulation elicits vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR) and self-motion perception (e.g., vertigo) whose response durations are normally equal. Adaptation to repeated whole-body rotations, for example, ballet training, is known to reduce vestibular responses. We investigated the neuroanatomical correlates of vestibular perceptuo-reflex adaptation in ballet dancers and controls. Dancers' vestibular-reflex and perceptual responses to whole-body yaw-plane step rotations were: (1) Briefer and (2) uncorrelated (controls' reflex and perception were correlated). Voxel-based morphometry showed a selective gray matter (GM) reduction in dancers' vestibular cerebellum correlating with ballet experience. Dancers' vestibular cerebellar GM density reduction was related to shorter perceptual responses (i.e. positively correlated) but longer VOR duration (negatively correlated). Contrastingly, controls' vestibular cerebellar GM density negatively correlated with perception and VOR. Diffusion-tensor imaging showed that cerebral cortex white matter (WM) microstructure correlated with vestibular perception but only in controls. In summary, dancers display vestibular perceptuo-reflex dissociation with the neuronatomical correlate localized to the vestibular cerebellum. Controls' robust vestibular perception correlated with a cortical WM network conspicuously absent in dancers. Since primary vestibular afferents synapse in the vestibular cerebellum, we speculate that a cerebellar gating of perceptual signals to cortical regions mediates the training-related attenuation of vestibular perception and perceptuo-reflex uncoupling.

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          Most cited references 35

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          Training-induced brain structure changes in the elderly.

          It has been suggested that learning is associated with a transient and highly selective increase in brain gray matter in healthy young volunteers. It is not clear whether and to what extent the aging brain is still able to exhibit such structural plasticity. We built on our original study, now focusing on healthy senior citizens. We observed that elderly persons were able to learn three-ball cascade juggling, but with less proficiency compared with 20-year-old adolescents. Similar to the young group, gray-matter changes in the older brain related to skill acquisition were observed in area hMT/V5 (middle temporal area of the visual cortex). In addition, elderly volunteers who learned to juggle showed transient increases in gray matter in the hippocampus on the left side and in the nucleus accumbens bilaterally.
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            Dynamic properties of human brain structure: learning-related changes in cortical areas and associated fiber connections.

            Recent findings in neuroscience suggest that adult brain structure changes in response to environmental alterations and skill learning. Whereas much is known about structural changes after intensive practice for several months, little is known about the effects of single practice sessions on macroscopic brain structure and about progressive (dynamic) morphological alterations relative to improved task proficiency during learning for several weeks. Using T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging in humans, we demonstrate significant gray matter volume increases in frontal and parietal brain areas following only two sessions of practice in a complex whole-body balancing task. Gray matter volume increase in the prefrontal cortex correlated positively with subject's performance improvements during a 6 week learning period. Furthermore, we found that microstructural changes of fractional anisotropy in corresponding white matter regions followed the same temporal dynamic in relation to task performance. The results make clear how marginal alterations in our ever changing environment affect adult brain structure and elucidate the interrelated reorganization in cortical areas and associated fiber connections in correlation with improvements in task performance.
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              Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited

              Background Recently, activation-dependant structural brain plasticity in humans has been demonstrated in adults after three months of training a visio-motor skill. Learning three-ball cascade juggling was associated with a transient and highly selective increase in brain gray matter in the occipito-temporal cortex comprising the motion sensitive area hMT/V5 bilaterally. However, the exact time-scale of usage-dependant structural changes occur is still unknown. A better understanding of the temporal parameters may help to elucidate to what extent this type of cortical plasticity contributes to fast adapting cortical processes that may be relevant to learning. Principal Findings Using a 3 Tesla scanner and monitoring whole brain structure we repeated and extended our original study in 20 healthy adult volunteers, focussing on the temporal aspects of the structural changes and investigated whether these changes are performance or exercise dependant. The data confirmed our earlier observation using a mean effects analysis and in addition showed that learning to juggle can alter gray matter in the occipito-temporal cortex as early as after 7 days of training. Neither performance nor exercise alone could explain these changes. Conclusion We suggest that the qualitative change (i.e. learning of a new task) is more critical for the brain to change its structure than continued training of an already-learned task.

                Author and article information

                Cereb Cortex
                Cereb. Cortex
                Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)
                Oxford University Press
                February 2015
                26 September 2013
                26 September 2013
                : 25
                : 2
                : 554-562
                [1 ]Neuro-Otology Unit, Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London , LondonW6 8RP, UK
                [2 ]The Computational, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory, Imperial College London , The Hammersmith Hospital , LondonW12 0NN, UK and
                [3 ]Institute of Neurology, UCL , LondonWC1N 3BG, UK
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to Barry M. Seemungal, Room 10L16, Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, Charing Cross Campus, London W6 8RF, UK. Email: b.seemungal@
                © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact



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