Neurophysiological changes in the visuomotor network after practicing a motor task

James E. Gehringer, David J. Arpin, Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, Tony W. Wilson, Max J. Kurz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Although it is well appreciated that practicing a motor task updates the associated internal model, it is still unknown how the cortical oscillations linked with the motor action change with practice. The present study investigates the short-term changes (e.g., fast motor learning) in the α- and β-event-related desynchronizations (ERD) associated with the production of a motor action. To this end, we used magnetoencephalography to identify changes in the α- and β-ERD in healthy adults after participants practiced a novel isometric ankle plantarflexion target-matching task. After practicing, the participants matched the targets faster and had improved accuracy, faster force production, and a reduced amount of variability in the force output when trying to match the target. Parallel with the behavioral results, the strength of the β-ERD across the motor-planning and execution stages was reduced after practice in the sensorimotor and occipital cortexes. No pre/postpractice changes were found in the α-ERD during motor planning or execution. Together, these outcomes suggest that fast motor learning is associated with a decrease in β-ERD power. The decreased strength likely reflects a more refined motor plan, a reduction in neural resources needed to perform the task, and/or an enhancement of the processes that are involved in the visuomotor transformations that occur before the onset of the motor action. These results may augment the development of neurologically based practice strategies and/or lead to new practice strategies that increase motor learning. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We aimed to determine the effects of practice on the movement-related cortical oscillatory activity. Following practice, we found that the performance of the ankle plantarflexion target-matching task improved and the power of the β-oscillations decreased in the sensorimotor and occipital cortexes. These novel findings capture the β-oscillatory activity changes in the sensorimotor and occipital cortexes that are coupled with behavioral changes to demonstrate the effects of motor learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-249
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Learning
  • Lower extremity
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Motor control
  • β-ERD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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