Primary motor cortex excitability as a marker of plasticity in a stimulation protocol combining action observation and kinesthetic illusion of movement

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Abstract

Action observation combined with proprioceptive stimulation able to induce a kinesthetic illusion of movement (AO‐KI) was shown to elicit a plastic increase in primary motor cortex (M1) excitability, with promising applications in rehabilitative interventions. Nevertheless, the known individual variability in response to combined stimulation protocols limits its application.

The aim of this study was to examine whether a relationship exists between changes in M1 excitability during AO‐KI and the long‐lasting changes in M1 induced by AO‐KI.

Fifteen volunteers received a conditioning protocol consisting in watching a video showing a thumb‐opposition movement and a simultaneous proprioceptive stimulation that evoked an illusory kinesthetic experience of their thumbs closing. M1 excitability was evaluated by means of single‐pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation before, DURING the conditioning protocol, and up to 60 minutes AFTER it was administered.

M1 excitability significantly increased during AO‐KI with respect to a rest condition. Furthermore, AO‐KI induced a long‐lasting increase in M1 excitability up to 60 minutes after administration. Finally, a significant positive correlation appeared between M1 excitability changes during and after AO‐KI; that is, participants who were more responsive during AO‐KI showed greater motor cortical activity changes after it.

These findings suggest that M1 response during AO‐KI can be considered a neurophysiological marker of individual responsiveness to the combined stimulation since it was predictive of its efficacy in inducing a long‐lasting M1 increase excitability. This information would allow knowing in advance whether an individual will be a responder to AO‐KI.

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