Impaired motor learning and diffuse axonal damage in motor and visual systems of the rat following traumatic brain injury

Y. Ding, B. Yao, Q. Lai, J. P. McAllister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Cognitive-motor functioning or motor skill learning is impaired in humans following traumatic brain injury. A more complete understanding of the mechanisms involved in disorders of motor skill learning is essential for any effective rehabilitation. The specific goals of this study were to examine motor learning disorders, and their relationship to pathological changes in adult rats with mild to moderate closed head injury. Motor learning deficits were determined by comparing the ability to complete a series of complex motor learning tasks with simple motor activity. The extent of neuronal damage was determined using silver impregnation. At all post-injury time points (day 1 to day 14), statistically significant deficits were observed in parallel bar traversing, foot placing, ladder climbing, and rope climbing. Performance improved with time, but never reached control levels. In contrast, no deficits were found in simple motor activity skills tested with beam balance and runway traverse. Histologically, axonal degeneration was widely distributed in several brain areas that relate to motor learning, including the white matter of sensorimotor cortex, corpus callosum, striatum, thalamus and cerebellum. Additionally, severely damaged axons were observed in the primary visual pathway, including the optic chiasm, optic tract, lateral geniculate nuclei, and superior colliculus. These findings suggest that motor learning deficits could be detected in mild or moderate brain injury, and this deficit could be attributed to a diffuse axonal injury distributed both in the motor and the visual systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-202
Number of pages10
JournalNeurological Research
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 23 2001


  • Axon degeneration
  • Motor learning
  • Motor system
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual pathway


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