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1.  Neuroplasticity and functional recovery in multiple sclerosis 
Nature reviews. Neurology  2012;8(11):635-646.
The development of therapeutic strategies that promote functional recovery is a major goal of multiple sclerosis (MS) research. Neuroscientific and methodological advances have improved our understanding of the brain’s recovery from damage, generating novel hypotheses for potential targets or modes of intervention and laying the foundation for the development of scientifically informed strategies promoting recovery in interventional studies. This Review aims to encourage the transition from characterization of recovery mechanisms to the development of strategies that promote recovery in MS. We discuss current evidence for functional reorganization that underlies recovery and its implications for development of new recovery-oriented strategies in MS. Promotion of functional recovery requires an improved understanding of recovery mechanisms modulated by interventions and the development of reliable measures of therapeutic effects. As imaging methods can be used to measure functional and structural alterations associated with recovery, this Review discusses their use as reliable markers to measure the effects of interventions.
PMCID: PMC3770511  PMID: 22986429
2.  Relating Brain Damage to Brain Plasticity in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis 
Failure of adaptive plasticity with increasing pathology is suggested to contribute to progression of disability in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, functional impairments can be reduced with practice, suggesting that brain plasticity is preserved even in patients with substantial damage.
Here, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to probe systems-level mechanisms of brain plasticity associated with improvements in visuomotor performance in MS patients and related to measures of microstructural damage.
23 MS patients and 12 healthy controls underwent brain fMRI during the first practice session of a visuomotor task (short-term practice) and after 2 weeks of daily practice with the same task (longer-term practice). Participants also underwent a structural brain MRI scan.
Patients performed more poorly than controls at baseline. Nonetheless, with practice, patients showed performance improvements similar to controls and independent of the extent of MRI measures of brain pathology. Different relationships between performance improvements and activations were found between groups: greater short-term improvements were associated with lower activation in the sensorimotor, posterior cingulate, and parahippocampal cortices for patients, whereas greater long-term improvements correlated with smaller activation reductions in the visual cortex of controls.
Brain plasticity for visuomotor practice is preserved in MS patients despite a high burden of cerebral pathology. Cognitive systems different from those acting in controls contribute to this plasticity in patients. These findings challenge the notion that increasing pathology is accompanied by an outright failure of adaptive plasticity, supporting a neuroscientific rationale for recovery-oriented strategies even in chronically disabled patients.
PMCID: PMC3674542  PMID: 22328685
3.  Structural and Functional Bases for Individual Differences in Motor Learning 
Human brain mapping  2011;32(3):494-508.
People vary in their ability to learn new motor skills. We hypothesize that between-subject variability in brain structure and function can explain differences in learning. We use brain functional and structural MRI methods to characterize such neural correlates of individual variations in motor learning. Healthy subjects applied isometric grip force of varying magnitudes with their right hands cued visually to generate smoothly-varying pressures following a regular pattern. We tested whether individual variations in motor learning were associated with anatomically colocalized variations in magnitude of functional MRI (fMRI) signal or in MRI differences related to white and grey matter microstructure. We found that individual motor learning was correlated with greater functional activation in the prefrontal, premotor, and parietal cortices, as well as in the basal ganglia and cerebellum.
Structural MRI correlates were found in the premotor cortex [for fractional anisotropy (FA)] and in the cerebellum [for both grey matter density and FA]. The cerebellar microstructural differences were anatomically colocalized with fMRI correlates of learning. This study thus suggests that variations across the population in the function and structure of specific brain regions for motor control explain some of the individual differences in skill learning. This strengthens the notion that brain structure determines some limits to cognitive function even in a healthy population. Along with evidence from pathology suggesting a role for these regions in spontaneous motor recovery, our results also highlight potential targets for therapeutic interventions designed to maximize plasticity for recovery of similar visuomotor skills after brain injury.
PMCID: PMC3674543  PMID: 20533562
4.  Effects of Acute Nicotine Abstinence on Cue-elicited Ventral Striatum/Nucleus Accumbens Activation in Female Cigarette Smokers: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study 
Brain imaging and behavior  2007;1(3-4):43-57.
To achieve greater understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying nicotine craving in female smokers, we examined the influence of nicotine non-abstinence vs. acute nicotine abstinence on cue-elicited activation of the ventral striatum. Eight female smokers underwent an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) paradigm presenting randomized sequences of smoking-related and non-smoking related pictures. Participants were asked to indicate by a key press the gender of individuals in smoking-related and non-smoking related pictures (gender discrimination task), to maintain and evaluate attention to the pictures. There was a significant effect of smoking condition on reaction times (RT) for a gender discrimination task intended to assess and maintain attention to the photographs—suggesting a deprivation effect of acute nicotine abstinence and a statistical trend indicating greater RTs for smoking cues than neutral cues. BOLD contrast (smoking vs. non-smoking cues) was greater in the non-abstinent vs. acutely abstinent conditions in the ventral striatum including the nucleus accumbens (VS/NAc). Moreover, a significant positive correlation was observed between baseline cigarette craving prior to scanning and VS/NAc activation (r=0.84, p=0.009), but only in the non-abstinent condition. These results may either be explained by ceiling effects of nicotine withdrawal in the abstinent condition or, may indicate reduced relative activation (smoking vs. neutral contrast) in the VS/NAc in the abstinent vs. non-abstinent conditions in this group of female smokers.
PMCID: PMC2367252  PMID: 18458752
fMRI; Smoking; Tobacco; Cue reactivity; Ventral striatum; Nucleus accumbens

Results 1-4 (4)