Prenatal Development of Interlimb Motor Learning in the Rat Fetus

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The role of sensory feedback in the early ontogeny of motor coordination remains a topic of speculation and debate. On E20 of gestation (the 20th day after conception, 2 days before birth), rat fetuses can alter interlimb coordination after a period of training with an interlimb yoke, which constrains limb movement and promotes synchronized, conjugate movement of the yoked limbs. The aim of this study was to determine how the ability to express this form of motor learning may change during prenatal development. Fetal rats were prepared for in vivo study at 4 ages (E18–21) and tested in a 65-min training-and-testing session examining hind limb motor learning. A significant increase in conjugate hind limb activity was expressed by E19, but not E18 fetuses, with further increases in conjugate hind limb activity on E20 and E21. These findings suggest substantial development of the ability of fetal rats to modify patterns of interlimb coordination in response to kinesthetic feedback during motor training before birth.