Repeated Structural Imaging Reveals Nonlinear Progression of Experience-Dependent Volume Changes in Human Motor Cortex

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Evidence for experience-dependent structural brain change in adult humans is accumulating. However, its time course is not well understood, as intervention studies typically consist of only 2 imaging sessions (before vs. after training).We acquired up to 18 structural magnetic resonance images over a 7-week period while 15 right-handed participants practiced left-hand writing and drawing. After 4 weeks, we observed increases in gray matter of both left and right primary motor cortices relative to a control group; 3 weeks later, these differences were no longer reliable. Time-series analyses revealed that gray matter in the primary motor cortices expanded during the first 4weeks and then partially renormalized, in particular in the right hemisphere, despite continued practice and increasing task proficiency. Similar patterns of expansion followed by partial renormalization are also found in synaptogenesis, cortical map plasticity, and maturation, and may qualify as a general principle of structural plasticity. Research on human brain plasticity needs to encompass more than 2 measurement occasions to capture expansion and potential renormalization processes over time.


  • Elisabeth Wenger
  • Simone Kühn
  • Julius Verrel
  • Johan Mårtensson
  • Nils Christian Bodammer
  • Ulman Lindenberger
  • Martin Lövdén
External organisations
  • University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf
  • Stockholm University
  • Max Planck Institute for Human Development
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • European University Institute
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Neurosciences


  • Gray matter changes, Motor learning, Structural brain plasticity, Time course, Voxel-based morphometry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2911-2925
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1
Publication categoryResearch