DOI: 10.1002/hbm.26537 ISSN: 1065-9471

Baseline GABA+ levels in areas associated with sensorimotor control predict initial and long‐term motor learning progress

Hong Li, Sima Chalavi, Amirhossein Rasooli, Geraldine Rodríguez‐Nieto, Caroline Seer, Mark Mikkelsen, Richard A. E. Edden, Stefan Sunaert, Ron Peeters, Dante Mantini, Stephan P. Swinnen
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Neurology
  • Radiology, Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Anatomy


Synaptic plasticity relies on the balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. As the primary inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters, gamma‐aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate (Glu), play critical roles in synaptic plasticity and learning. However, the role of these neurometabolites in motor learning is still unclear. Furthermore, it remains to be investigated which neurometabolite levels from the regions composing the sensorimotor network predict future learning outcome. Here, we studied the role of baseline neurometabolite levels in four task‐related brain areas during different stages of motor skill learning under two different feedback (FB) conditions. Fifty‐one healthy participants were trained on a bimanual motor task over 5 days while receiving either concurrent augmented visual FB (CA‐VFB group, N = 25) or terminal intrinsic visual FB (TA‐VFB group, N = 26) of their performance. Additionally, MRS‐measured baseline GABA+ (GABA + macromolecules) and Glx (Glu + glutamine) levels were measured in the primary motor cortex (M1), primary somatosensory cortex (S1), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and medial temporal cortex (MT/V5). Behaviorally, our results revealed that the CA‐VFB group outperformed the TA‐VFB group during task performance in the presence of augmented VFB, while the TA‐VFB group outperformed the CA‐VFB group in the absence of augmented FB. Moreover, baseline M1 GABA+ levels positively predicted and DLPFC GABA+ levels negatively predicted both initial and long‐term motor learning progress in the TA‐VFB group. In contrast, baseline S1 GABA+ levels positively predicted initial and long‐term motor learning progress in the CA‐VFB group. Glx levels did not predict learning progress. Together, these findings suggest that baseline GABA+ levels predict motor learning capability, yet depending on the FB training conditions afforded to the participants.

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