Sustained enhancements in inhibitory control depend primarily on the reinforcement of fronto-basal anatomical connectivity
What are the neurophysiological determinants of sustained supra-normal inhibitory control performance? We addressed this question by coupling multimodal neuroimaging and behavioral investigations of experts in fencing who underwent more than 20,000 h of inhibitory control training over 15 years. The superior control of the experts manifested behaviorally as a speeding-up of inhibition processes during a Go/NoGo task and was accompanied by changes in bilateral inferior frontal white matter microstructure. In the expert group, inhibition performance correlated positively with the fractional anisotropy (FA) of white matter tracts projecting to the basal ganglia, and the total training load with the FA in supplementary motor areas. Critically, the experts showed no changes in grey matter volume or in the functional organization of the fronto-basal inhibitory control network. The fencers' performance and neural activity during a 2-back working memory task did not differ from those of the controls, ensuring that their expertise was specific to inhibitory control. Our results indicate that while phasic changes in the patterns of neural activity and grey matter architecture accompany inhibitory control improvement after short- to medium- term training, long-lasting inhibitory control improvements primarily depend on the reinforcement of fronto-basal structural connectivity.