Scientists take the “movement” to describe

image: scientists take “movement” to describe the brain networks behind motor function
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Credit: Mr. Kenji Ueta, Ritsumeikan University

The human body constantly adapts its posture in response to its external environment. Known as “dynamic whole body balance,” it is needed for everything from everyday activities to more complex athletic activities. Problems with dynamic balance of the whole body can lead to trips or falls. Naturally, the involvement of the whole body makes the neural networks behind this type of postural control incredibly complex. Understanding the underlying neural mechanisms could prove invaluable for athletic training and rehabilitation following traumatic brain injuries such as stroke.

However, the study of these neural networks is difficult and information on this front is limited. In a new study published in Medicine and science in sport and exercise, researchers at Ritsumeikan University in Japan have developed a new method for studying the dynamic balance mechanisms of the whole body. “Our study opens the door to the study of the neural mechanisms of motor learning “in situ” during activities such as gymnastics and swimming without constraints.“said Associate Professor Kenji Ueta, who led the study.

Repeated movements, such as motor learning exercises, alter the structural and functional connectivity between different regions of the brain. This is called the “motor engram” or memory trace of the motor. The research team studied a group of 28 people to develop a functional connectivity motor engram for slackline exercises. They took MRI images of the participants’ brains before and after 30 minutes of slacklining training and repeated the sequence with aerobic ergometer exercises. Using this as a control, they evaluated changes in the brain caused specifically by whole body dynamic balance training.

They found that slacklining training dramatically increased ‘resting-state functional connectivity’ (rs-FC) between several parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, parts of the sensorimotor cortex, the hippocampus, and the cingulate cortex, regions of the brain associated with cognitive functions, motor tasks, memory and mood, respectively. This suggests that whole body dynamic balance training also positively affects brain function.

More significantly, however, they observed that these changes were associated with offline learning, that is, they were retained in the brain for a short time after exercise. “The discovery that changes in rs-FC in the brain correlate with the offline process of learning balance implies that certain constraints that we previously held true – such as the idea that a participant’s head must be fixed in place so that we can assess his memory the engrams effectively – are not necessary. This means that the neural mechanisms of motor learning can be studied during natural tasks using robotic devices ”, explains Ueta.

What are the implications of these findings? While Ueta points out that the study focused only on healthy young adults and that more research is needed to see how whole-body dynamic balance training would affect other population groups, the results have potential applications in sports neuroscience and neurorehabilitation, allowing the development of more efficient methods. evaluations and training programs.

“They can be used to create effective training programs for athletes or to develop treatment protocols that can help people rehabilitate and recover their motor functions faster.” Ueta speculates. “In a few years we may even have tailor-made neuroscience-based training methods for sports and exercise, which will increase their enjoyment. Making exercise more fun will go a long way in reducing lifestyle diseases ”, he concludes.



About Ritsumeikan University, Japan

A prominent private university located in western Japan, Ritsumeikan University is constantly accelerating its efforts to become a research-intensive institute. In fiscal year 2020, Ritsumeikan ranked third among private universities in terms of the number and total amount of scientific research assistance grants awarded by the Japanese government. It has the distinction of being the first university in Japan to be ranked by QS Stars as a four-star institution, while also receiving a five-star rating for internationalization. It has also achieved the best results among Japanese private universities in the THE Impact rankings for two consecutive years.


About Mr. Kenji Ueta from Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Kenji Ueta is Associate Professor at the College of Sport and Health Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Japan. His research interests include sports science and improving motor skills, especially in children, sports pedagogy and coordination training. He is the author of numerous articles in the field, as well as two books. Professor Ueta currently holds a prestigious KAKENHI Grant for Scientific Research. He has also been the recipient of two Young Scientist Grants in the past.

About Dr Nobuaki Mizuguchi from Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Nobuaki Mizuguchi is the corresponding author of the article. He is an Assistant Professor in the Science and Technology Research Organization at Ritsumeikan University, Japan. His research interests include sports neuroscience and neural mechanisms of motor control and tilt.

Funding Information

This study was supported by JSPS KAKENHI (grant numbers 18K02468 and 16K01638), JST COI (grant number JPMJCE1306) and Ritsumeikan University BKC Research Organization of Social Sciences Program for Research Institute Mission.

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