Journal of neurophysiology

Remote limb ischemic conditioning enhances motor learning in healthy humans.

PMID 25867743


Brief bouts of sublethal ischemia have been shown to protect exposed tissue (ischemic conditioning) and tissues at remote sites (remote ischemic conditioning) against subsequent ischemic challenges. Given that the mechanisms of this protective phenomenon are multifactorial and epigenetic, we postulated that remote limb ischemic conditioning (RLIC) might enhance mechanisms responsible for neural plasticity, and thereby facilitate learning. Specifically, we hypothesized that conditioning of the nervous system with RLIC, achieved through brief repetitive limb ischemia prior to training, would facilitate the neurophysiological processes of learning, thus making training more effective and more long-lasting. Eighteen healthy adults participated in this study; nine were randomly allocated to RLIC and nine to sham conditioning. All subjects underwent seven consecutive weekday sessions and 2-wk and 4-wk follow-up sessions. We found that RLIC resulted in significantly greater motor learning and longer retention of motor performance gains in healthy adults. Changes in motor performance do not appear to be due to a generalized increase in muscle activation or muscle strength and were not associated with changes in serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) concentration. Of note, RLIC did not enhance cognitive learning on a hippocampus-dependent task. While future research is needed to establish optimal conditioning and training parameters, this inexpensive, clinically feasible paradigm might ultimately be implemented to enhance motor learning in individuals undergoing neuromuscular rehabilitation for brain injury and other pathological conditions.