Using aerobic exercise to enhance motor learning and cortical excitability after stroke

The severity of motor impairments due to stroke vary markedly in different people, and with therapy, a degree of recovery is possible. Understanding the underlying neural mechanisms supporting motor recovery from stroke would inform development of more effective therapies.

The overall objective of the proposed work is to determine whether priming exercise (bouts of aerobic exercise) can alter cortical structure and excitability and prepare the brain to enhance motor learning after stroke. Testing hypotheses based on studies of healthy individuals, we will investigate whether for individuals with stroke:

  1. Neurobiological changes occur following priming exercise
  2. Motor learning is enhanced by repeated pairings of priming exercise with skilled motor practice
  3. There is capacity for neuroplastic change in brain white matter (myelin) following repeated pairings of priming exercise with skilled motor practice

This work could aid in predicting how priming exercise may alter the neurobiology of the brain and impact capacity for motor learning in different individuals.

Pairing rehabilitation with priming exercise could prove to be an effective approach to improving outcomes after stroke. This research may serve as a starting point for using structural imaging information to personalize this approach patient-by-patient for optimal outcomes.