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Effect Of Forelimb Use On Postnatal Development Of The Forelimb Motor Representation In Primary Motor Cortex Of The Cat

John H. Martin, Daniel Engber, Zhuo Meng

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In the cat, the motor representation in motor cortex develops between wk 8 and wk 13. Motor map development is accompanied by a decrease in the current thresholds for evoking movements with a concomitant increase in the number of effective sites, an increase in the distal representation, and the representation of multijoint synergies. In this study we used intracortical microstimulation in anesthetized cats to examine how forelimb motor experiences influence development of map characteristics. To promote skilled movements during wks 8–13, animals were engaged in daily performance of a prehension task. Forelimb movements were prevented by intramuscular botulinum toxin injection or restraint. To determine whether experience-dependent changes were permanent, we examined the map in different animals between 1 wk and 1 yr after cessation of testing. Promoting forelimb use resulted in an increase in the number of sites from which multiple joint effects were produced by stimulation and the number of joints represented at those sites. The effect was maximal at 1 wk after cessation of testing, and became progressively less at 1 mo and at 4 mo. Preventing limb use resulted in a decreased number of effective sites, an increase in current thresholds for evoking responses, and a decreased representation of joints at multijoint sites. Our findings show that the motor map can respond to novel motor demands as it is forming during development but that it reverts back to one with the properties of a map in a control animal if those demands are not maintained in the animal's behavioral repertoire.