Can Operant Conditioning of EMG-Evoked Responses Help to Target Corticospinal Plasticity for Improving Motor Function in People With Multiple Sclerosis?

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Corticospinal pathway and its function are essential in motor control and motor rehabilitation. Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes damage to the brain and descending connections, and often diminishes corticospinal function. In people with MS, neural plasticity is available, although it does not necessarily remain stable over the course of disease progress. Thus, inducing plasticity to the corticospinal pathway so as to improve its function may lead to motor control improvements, which impact one’s mobility, health, and wellness. In order to harness plasticity in people with MS, over the past two decades, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques have been examined for addressing common symptoms, such as cognitive deficits, fatigue, and spasticity. While these methods appear promising, when it comes to motor rehabilitation, just inducing plasticity or having a capacity for it does not guarantee generation of better motor functions. Targeting plasticity to a key pathway, such as the corticospinal pathway, could change what limits one’s motor control and improve function. One of such neural training methods is operant conditioning of the motor-evoked potential that aims to train the behavior of the corticospinal-motoneuron pathway. Through up-conditioning training, the person learns to produce the rewarded neuronal behavior/state of increased corticospinal excitability, and through iterative training, the rewarded behavior/state becomes one’s habitual, daily motor behavior. This minireview introduces operant conditioning approach for people with MS. Guiding beneficial CNS plasticity on top of continuous disease progress may help to prolong the duration of maintained motor function and quality of life in people living with MS.

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