Motor Plasticity


In contrast to the long-held view that brain plasticity is restricted to critical periods during ontogenesis, it is now well established that the adult human brain preserves its capacity for functional and structural changes throughout life. Although early experimental studies were mainly performed in animals, technical developments in the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) enabled the non-invasive observation of functional as well as structural reorganization in the living human brain. The finding that brain plasticity occurs in response to environmental changes such as experience or learning opens novel perspectives for neurorehabilitation strategies. However, a better characterization of the underlying neural mechanisms of brain plasticity is an important prerequisite in order to facilitate skills, prevent disease or restore brain function.

Ideas / Goals:

The fundamental goal of our research group is to better characterize the neural mechanisms subserving motor skill learning by means of functional and structural imaging (MRI, EEG) as well as non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS). Subsequently, this knowledge will be used to develop adjuvant strategies to modulate brain plasticity (via novel learning paradigms or non-invasive brain stimulation alone or in combination) and thereby influence behavior. Our research combines studies of basic and clinical science across populations of young normal adults (including experts in a specific skill such as musicians and athletes), older adults and neurological patient populations. Using a translational research approach (bench to bedside), we hope to identify novel strategies to improve motor skill learning, prevent the age-related decline in motor function and to promote neurorehabilitation.


  1. Various uni- and bimanual motor tasks (serial reaction time tasks (SRTT), sequential pinch force tasks (SPFT), balance task, fine-motor skill learning paradigms)

  2. Non-invasive brain stimulation protocols: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), as well as various forms of repetitive TMS (rTMS) protocols such as PAS (paired-associative stimulation), TBS (theta-burst stimulation), double as well as triple pulse rTMS

  3. Non-invasive brain imaging: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), structural MRI (sMRI), resting state fMRI (rsfMRI), evoked potentials (EPS)

Current Research Projects

  1. Motor learning and associated cortical plasticity in the adult and aging brain

  2. Augmenting mirror visual feedback via concurrent tDCS application

  3. Modulating complex whole body motor skill learning by tDCS

  4. Structural brain changes within a functional network of motor sequence learning

  5. Motor skill learning in chronic stroke and Parkinson’s disease

  6. The relationship between interhemispheric inhibition and the corpus callosum: A comparison between musicians and non-musicians

  7. Intracortical and interhemispheric effects of non-invasive brain stimulation

  8. Optimizing non-invasive brain stimulation protocols in terms of efficacy and after-effects

  9. Motor skill learning and associated functional/ structural plasticity in musicians and athletes



Dr. Katharina von Kriegstein (MPI Leipzig), Prof. Robert Turner (MPI Leipzig), Prof. Eckart Altenmüller (IMMM, Hannover), Prof. Angela Friederici (MPI Leipzig), Prof. Joseph Classen (Neurology, University of Leipzig), Prof. Jürgen Krug (Sport Science, University of Leipzig), Dr. Thomas Dolk (University of Potsdam)


Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen (NINDS/NIH)

Publication of Group (since 2010)

1. Taubert M, Draganski B, Anwander A, Horstmann A, Müller K, Villringer A, Ragert P. Dynamic properties of human brain structure: learning-related changes in cortical areas and associated fibre connections. J Neurosci. 2010 Sep 1; 30(35):11670-7. IF: 7.11

2. Ragert P, Nierhaus T, Cohen LG, Villringer A. Interhemispheric interactions between the human primary somatosensory cortices. PLoS One. 2011 Feb 10;6(2):e16150.

3. Sewerin S, Taubert M, Vollmann H, Conde V, Villringer A, Ragert P. Enhancing the effect of repetitive I-wave paired-pulse TMS (iTMS) by adjusting fort he individual I-wave periodicity. BMC Neurosci. 2011 May 18;12(1):45

4. Taubert M, Lohmann G, Margulies DS, Villringer A, Ragert P. Long-term effects of motor training on resting-state networks and underlying brain structure. Neuroimage 2011 Aug 15;57(4):1492-8.
5. Riedel P, Kabisch S, Ragert P, von Kriegstein K. Contact dermatitis after transcranial direct current stimulation. Brain Stimul 2012 Jul;5(3):432-4.

6. Conde V, Vollmann H, Sehm B, Taubert M, Villringer A, Ragert P. Cortical thickness in primary sensorimotor cortex influences the effectiveness of paired associative stimulation. Neuroimage. 2012 Apr 2;60(2):864-70.

7. Willimzig C, Ragert P, Dinse HR. Cortical topography of intracortical inhibition influences the speed of decision making. PNAS. 2012 Feb 21; 109(8): 3107-12.

8. Dolk T, Liepelt R, Prinz W, Villringer A, Ragert P. Morphometric gray matter differences of the medial frontal cortex influence the social Simon effect. Neuroimage. 2012 Jul 16;61(4):1249-54.

9. Vollmann H, Conde V, Sewerin S, Taubert M, Sehm B, Witte OW, Villringer A, Ragert P. Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over supplementary motor area (SMA) but not pre-SMA promotes short-term visuomotor learning. Brain Stimul. 2013 Mar;6(2):101-7.

10. Conde V, Altenmüller E, Villringer A, Ragert P. Task-irrelevant auditory feedback facilitates motor performance in musicians. Front Psychol. 2012;3:146. Epub 2012 May 16.

11. Gryga M, Taubert M, Dukart J, Vollmann H, Conde V, Sehm B, Villringer A, Ragert P. Bidirectional gray matter changes after complex motor skill learning. Front Syst Neurosci. 2012;6:37. Epub 2012 May 16.
12. Trapp S, Lepsien J, Sehm B, Villringer A, Ragert P. Changes of Hand Switching Costs during Bimanual Sequential Learning. PLoS One. 2012, 7(9):e45857. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045857.

13. Sehm B, Schaefer A, Kipping J, Margulies D, Conde V, Taubert M, Villringer A, Ragert P. Dynamic modulation of intrinsic functional connectivity by transcranial direct current stimulation. J Neurophysiol. 2012, 108(12):3253-63.

14. Sehm B, Hoff M, Gundlach C, Taubert M, Conde V, Villringer A, Ragert P. A novel ring electrode setup fort he recording of somatosensory evoked potentials during transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). J Neurosci Methods. 2013, 30;212(2):234-6.

15. Friederici AD, Mueller JL, Sehm B, Ragert P. Language Learning without control: The role of the PFC. J Cog Neurosci 2013, 25(5):814-21.

16. Conde V, Vollmann H, Taubert M, Sehm B, Cohen LG, Villringer A, Ragert P. Reversed timing-dependent associative plasticity in the human brain through interhemispheric interactions. J Neurophysiol 2013, 109(9):2260-71.

17. Sehm B, Kipping J, Schäfer A, Villringer A, Ragert P. A comparison between uni- and bilateral tDCS effects on functional connectivity of the human motor cortex. Front Hum Neurosci, 07 May 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00183.

18. Sehm B, Taubert M, Conde V, Weise D, Classen J, Dukart J, Draganski B, Villringer A, Ragert P. Structural brain plasticity in Parkinsons disease induced by balance training. Neurobiology of Aging, 2013, 35(1):232-9.

19. Kaminski E, Hoff M, Sehm B, Taubert M, Conde V, Steele SJ, Villringer A, Ragert P. Effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during complex whole body motor skill learning. Neurosci Lett, 2013, 552:76-80.

20. Sehm B, Ragert P. Why non-invasive brain stimulation should not be used in military and security services. Front Hum Neurosci, 2013. 7:553. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00553

21. Sehm B, Schnitzler T, Obleser J, Groba A, Ragert P, Villringer A, Obrig H. Facilitation of inferior frontal cortex by transcranial direct current stimulation induces perceptual learning of severely degraded speech. J Neurosci, 2013 Oct 2;33(40):15868-78.

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