Functional plasticity of the sensorimotor cortex occurs following motor practice, as well as after limb amputation. However, the joint effect of limb amputation and intensive, long-term motor practice on cortical plasticity remains unclear. Here, we recorded brain activity during unilateral contraction of the hip, knee, and ankle joint muscles from a long jump Paralympic gold medalist with a unilateral below-knee amputation (Amputee Long Jumper, ALJ). He used the amputated leg with a prosthesis for take-off. Under similar conditions to the ALJ, we also recorded brain activity from healthy long jumpers (HLJ) and non-athletes with a below-knee amputation. During a rhythmic isometric contraction of knee extensor muscles with the take-off/prosthetic leg, the ALJ activated not only the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex (M1/S1), but also the ipsilateral M1/S1. In addition, this ipsilateral M1/S1 activation was significantly greater than that seen in the HLJ. However, we did not find any significant differences between the ALJ and HLJ in M1/S1 activation during knee muscle contraction in the non-take-off/intact leg, nor during hip muscle contraction on either side. Region of interest analysis revealed that the ALJ exhibited a greater difference in M1/S1 activity and activated areas ipsilateral to the movement side between the take-off/prosthetic and non-take-off/intact legs during knee muscle contraction compared with the other two groups. However, difference in activity in M1/S1 contralateral to the movement side did not differ across groups. These results suggest that a combination of below-knee amputation and intensive, prolonged long jump training using a prosthesis (i.e. fine knee joint control) induced an expansion of the functional representation of the take-off/prosthetic leg in the ipsilateral M1/S1 in a muscle-specific manner. These results provide novel insights into the potential for substantial cortical plasticity with an extensive motor rehabilitation program.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience