Recent investigations into the neural basis of elite sporting performance have focused on whether cortical activity might characterize individual differences in ability. However, very little is understood about how changes in brain structure might contribute to individual differences in expert motor control. We compared the behavior and brain structure of healthy controls with a group of karate black belts, an expert group who are able to perform rapid, complex movements that require years of training. Using 3D motion tracking, we investigated whether the ability to control ballistic arm movements was associated with differences in white matter microstructure. We found that karate experts are better able than novices to coordinate the timing of inter-segmental joint velocities. Diffusion tensor imaging revealed significant differences between the groups in the microstructure of white matter in the superior cerebellar peduncles (SCPs) and primary motor cortex—brain regions that are critical to the voluntary control of movement. Motor coordination, the amount of experience, and the age at which training began were all associated with individual differences in white matter integrity in the cerebellum within the karate groups. These findings suggest a role for the white matter pathways of the SCPs in motor expertise.
Continue reading here: http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/08/08/cercor.bhs219.full