Distal forelimb representations in primary motor cortex are redistributed after forelimb restriction: A longitudinal study in adult squirrel monkeys

Garrett W. Milliken, Erik J. Plautz, Randolph J. Nudo

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23 Scopus citations


Primary motor cortex (M1) movement representations reflect acquired motor skills. Representations of muscles and joints used in a skilled task expand. However, it is unknown whether motor restriction in healthy individuals results in complementary reductions in M1 representations. With the use of intracortical microstimulation techniques in squirrel monkeys, detailed maps of movement representations in M1 were derived before and up to 35 wk after restriction of the preferred distal forelimb (DFL) by use of a soft cast. Although total DFL area and movement threshold remained constant, casting resulted in a redistribution of digit and wrist/forearm representations. Digit representations progressively decreased, whereas wrist/forearm representations progressively increased in areal extent. In three of four monkeys, hand preference returned to normal by the end of the postcast recovery period, and postrecovery maps demonstrated reversal of restriction-induced changes. However, in one monkey, a chronic motor impairment occurred in the casted limb. Rehabilitation via a forced-use paradigm resulted in recovery in use and skill of the impaired limb, as well as restoration of normal motor maps. These results demonstrate that plasticity in motor representations can be induced by training or restricting movements of the limb. Physiological changes induced by restriction appear to be reversible, even in the case of adverse motor outcomes. The respective contributions of both disuse and lost motor skills are discussed. These results have relevance for clinical conditions requiring forelimb casting as well as interpreting the differential effects of injury and disuse that are necessarily intertwined after cortical injury, as occurs in stroke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1268-1282
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 11 2013



  • Disuse
  • Hand
  • Motor cortex
  • Plasticity
  • Primate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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