Investigating female versus male differences in white matter neuroplasticity associated with complex visuo-motor learning

Eric D. Kirby, Justin W. Andrushko, Shie Rinat, Ryan C. N. D’Arcy*, Lara A. Boyd*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has increasingly been used to characterize structure–function relationships during white matter neuroplasticity. Biological sex differences may be an important factor that affects patterns of neuroplasticity, and therefore impacts learning and rehabilitation. The current study examined a participant cohort before and after visuo-motor training to characterize sex differences in microstructural measures. The participants (N = 27) completed a 10-session (4 week) complex visuo-motor training task with their non-dominant hand. All participants significantly improved movement speed and their movement speed variability over the training period. White matter neuroplasticity in females and males was examined using fractional anisotropy (FA) and myelin water fraction (MWF) along the cortico-spinal tract (CST) and the corpus callosum (CC). FA values showed significant differences in the middle portion of the CST tract (nodes 38–51) across the training period. MWF showed a similar cluster in the inferior portion of the tract (nodes 18–29) but did not reach significance. Additionally, at baseline, males showed significantly higher levels of MWF measures in the middle body of the CC. Combining data from females and males would have resulted in reduced sensitivity, making it harder to detect differences in neuroplasticity. These findings offer initial insights into possible female versus male differences in white matter neuroplasticity during motor learning. This warrants investigations into specific patterns of white matter neuroplasticity for females versus males across the lifespan. Understanding biological sex-specific differences in white matter neuroplasticity may have significant implications for the interpretation of change associated with learning or rehabilitation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5951
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024

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