Effect of error augmentation on brain activation and motor learning of a complex locomotor task

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Up to date, the functional gains obtained after robot-aided gait rehabilitation training are limited. Error augmenting strategies have a great potential to enhance motor learning of simple motor tasks. However, little is known about the effect of these error modulating strategies on complex tasks, such as relearning to walk after a neurologic accident. Additionally, neuroimaging evaluation of brain regions involved in learning processes could provide valuable information on behavioral outcomes. We investigated the effect of robotic training strategies that augment errors-error amplification and random force disturbance-and training without perturbations on brain activation and motor learning of a complex locomotor task. Thirty-four healthy subjects performed the experiment with a robotic stepper (MARCOS) in a 1.5 T MR scanner. The task consisted in tracking a Lissajous figure presented on a display by coordinating the legs in a gait-like movement pattern. Behavioral results showed that training without perturbations enhanced motor learning in initially less skilled subjects, while error amplification benefited better-skilled subjects. Training with error amplification, however, hampered transfer of learning. Randomly disturbing forces induced learning and promoted transfer in all subjects, probably because the unexpected forces increased subjects' attention. Functional MRI revealed main effects of training strategy and skill level during training. A main effect of training strategy was seen in brain regions typically associated with motor control and learning, such as, the basal ganglia, cerebellum, intraparietal sulcus, and angular gyrus. Especially, random disturbance and no perturbation lead to stronger brain activation in similar brain regions than error amplification. Skill-level related effects were observed in the IPS, in parts of the superior parietal lobe (SPL), i.e., precuneus, and temporal cortex. These neuroimaging findings indicate that gait-like motor learning depends on interplay between subcortical, cerebellar, and fronto-parietal brain regions. An interesting observation was the low activation observed in the brain's reward system after training with error amplification compared to training without perturbations. Our results suggest that to enhance learning of a locomotor task, errors should be augmented based on subjects' skill level. The impacts of these strategies on motor learning, brain activation, and motivation in neurological patients need further investigation.




Marchal-Crespo, L., Michels, L., Jaeger, L., López-Olóriz, J., & Riener, R. (2017). Effect of error augmentation on brain activation and motor learning of a complex locomotor task. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 11(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00526

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