Jacinta O'Shea and colleagues at the University of Oxford reported their findings in the May 3, 2007 issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.
In their experiments, the researchers focused on a region of the brain called the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd), which is known to govern the selection of an action. The PMd is mirrored in the two brain hemispheres, and the left-hemisphere PMd is dominant in such motor control function. Researchers had known that after a stroke damages one side of the brain and paralyzes a limb, the PMd in the intact hemisphere increases in activity. However, they did not know whether this activity increase represented specific "rescue" of PMd function in the damaged hemisphere.
In their experiments, O'Shea and colleagues used magnetic pulses to temporarily and harmlessly disrupt function in the left PMd in human volunteers. To measure the subjects' ability to select action, the researchers gave the subjects a complex button-pushing task. During this task, they scanned the subjects' brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect changes in brain activity. This brain-scanning technique uses harmless radio waves and magnetic fields to measure blood flow in brain regions, which reflects brain activity.
The researchers found that the magnetic pulses to the left PMd briefly disrupted the subjects' performance on the task, but that performance quickly recovered. The fMRI scans revealed that during this behavioral recovery, the right PMd and other areas involved in premotor function underwent a compensatory increase in activity. The researchers' experiments also established