Revealing the plasticity of human brain myelin following motor training

Myelination of the parcellated human brain

To date, studies investigating change in the brain associated with experience dependent neuroplasticity have focused almost exclusively on change in the cortical gray matter. Notably, there has been an absence of research investigating whether white matter structure in the brain can undergo neuroplastic change to support learning. Myelin is a critical structural component of white matter that allows rapid and effective information exchange in the brain. Recently, we utilized a novel imaging technique that to demonstrate experience-dependent changes in myelin that are associated with changes in skilled movements in healthy young adults (Lakhani et al., 2016, Neural Plasticity). In this study healthy young adults completed ten sessions of video game training using the Microsoft Kinect (10,000 total movements) using the right arm. Myelin imaging was performed before and after training. Significant increases in myelin water fraction, a quantitative measure of myelin, were observed in task dependent brain regions.

Impact: Our results illustrate novel insights into tissue-specific experience-dependent changes in myelin, which have important clinical implications for those with brain damage or disease such as individuals with stroke or multiple sclerosis.