Anatomy of Subcortical Structures Predicts Age-Related Differences in Skill Acquisition

Sima Chalavi, Hamed Zivari Adab, Lisa Pauwels, Iseult A M Beets, Peter van Ruitenbeek, Matthieu P Boisgontier, Thiago Santos Monteiro, Celine Maes, Stefan Sunaert, Stephan P Swinnen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Skill acquisition capabilities vary substantially from one individual to another. Volumetric brain studies have demonstrated that global volume of several subcortical structures predicts variations in learning outcome in young adults (YA) and older adults (OA). In this study, for the first time, we utilized shape analysis, which offers a more sensitive detection of subregional brain anatomical deformations, to investigate whether subregional anatomy of subcortical structures is associated with training-induced performance improvement on a bimanual task in YA and OA, and whether this association is age-dependent. Compared with YA, OA showed poorer performance, greater performance improvement, and smaller global volume and compressed subregional shape in subcortical structures. In OA, global volume of the right nucleus accumbens and subregional shape of the right thalamus, caudate, putamen and nucleus accumbens were positively correlated with acquisition of difficult (non-preferred) but not easy (preferred) task conditions. In YA, global volume and subregional shape of the right hippocampus were negatively correlated with performance improvement in both the easy and difficult conditions. We argue that pre-existing neuroanatomical measures of subcortical structures involved in motor learning differentially predict skill acquisition potential in YA and OA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-473
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Journal Article

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