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BACKGROUND: The primary motor cortex (M1) has a vital role to play in the learning of novel motor skills. However, the physiological changes underpinning this learning, particularly in terms of dynamic changes during movement preparation, are incompletely understood. In particular, a substantial decrease in resting gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) activity, i.e. a release of resting inhibition, is seen within M1 as a subject prepares to move. Although there is evidence that a decrease in resting inhibition occurs within M1 during motor learning it is not known whether the pre-movement "release" of GABAergic inhibition is modulated during skill acquisition. OBJECTIVE: Here, we investigated changes in pre-movement GABAergic inhibitory "release" during training on a motor skill task. METHODS: We studied GABAA activity using paired-pulse TMS (Short-Interval Intracortical Inhibition (SICI)) during training on a ballistic thumb abduction task, both at rest and at two time-points during movement preparation. RESULTS: Improvement in task performance was related to a later, steeper, release of inhibition during the movement preparation phase. Specifically, subjects who showed greater improvement in the task in the early stages of training showed a reduced level of GABAergic release immediately prior to movement compared with those who improved less. Later in training, subjects who performed better showed a reduction in GABAergic release early in movement preparation. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that motor training is associated with maintained inhibition in motor cortex during movement preparation.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Stimul

Publication Date





300 - 308


GABA, Motor cortex, Motor training, Movement preparation, Plasticity, Transcranial magnetic stimulation