Using Exercise to Promote Neural Plasticity
In the 1990s, classical guitarist Liona Boyd was on top of the world, with five Juno awards and a thriving career as “Canada’s first lady of the guitar.” But by 2002, she had been sidelined with a debilitating neurological disorder that had her struggling to control the fingers of her right hand.
The culprit was focal hand dystonia (FHD), a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that happen during specific, skilled hand movements. The disorder affects one in 2,000 people, many of them musicians, surgeons, writers and others who rely on fine motor skills. Affected individuals are often treated with Botox injections to relax the muscles. But these don’t work for everyone, and others develop a resistance to the treatment. New approaches are needed—and Dr. Aimee Nelson is working on one.
As Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Neuroscience, Nelson is using cutting-edge techniques in functional near-infrared spectroscopy, one-proton magnetic spectroscopy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation to better understand the changes that take place in the human nervous system during exercise.
By learning more about the abnormal physiology that underlies FHD, Nelson and her research team hope to develop treatments for it, as well as for other neurological disorders that change brain activity. This research will have far-reaching implications for rehabilitative therapies that use exercise to improve human movement.