Acquisition and maintenance of the simplest motor skill: investigation of CNS mechanisms.

TitleAcquisition and maintenance of the simplest motor skill: investigation of CNS mechanisms.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsWolpaw, J
JournalMedicine and science in sports and exercise
Date Published12/1994
Keywordsconditioning, Learning, Memory, Motor control, plasticity, primate, Spinal Cord, training

The spinal stretch reflex (SSR), or tendon jerk, is the simplest behavior of the vertebrate nervous system. It is mediated primarily by a wholly spinal, two-neuron pathway. Recent studies from several laboratories have shown that primates, human and nonhuman, can gradually increase or decrease the size of the SSR when reward depends on such change. Evidence of this training remains in the spinal cord after all supraspinal influence is removed. Thus, the learning of this simple motor skill changes the spinal cord itself. Comparable spinal plasticity probably plays a role in the acquisition of many complex motor skills. Intracellular physiological and anatomical studies are seeking the location and nature of this spinal cord plasticity. Attention focuses on the most probable sites of change, the group Ia afferent synapse on the alpha motoneuron and the motoneuron itself. Results to date indicate that modifications are present at several places in the spinal cord. Current clinical studies are investigating the use of spinal cord adaptive plasticity as a basis for a new therapeutic approach to spasticity and other forms of abnormal spinal reflex function that result from spinal cord injury, stroke, or other neurological disorders. In the future, understanding of spinal reflex plasticity may lead to development of improved training methods for a variety of motor skills.


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