Study protocol to examine the effects of acute exercise on motor learning and brain activity in children with developmental coordination disorder (ExLe-Brain-DCD)


Introduction: Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is one of the most prevalent pediatric chronic conditions. Without proper intervention, significant delays in motor skill performance and learning may persist until adulthood. Moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise has been proven to improve motor learning (adaptation and consolidation) in children with or without disorders. However, the effect of a short bout of physical exercise on motor adaptation and consolidation in children with DCD has not been examined. Furthermore, the role of perceptual-motor integration and attention as mediators of learning has not been examined via neuroimaging in this population. Objectives: Therefore, the primary aims of this project will be to compare children with and without DCD to (a) examine the effect of acute exercise on motor learning (adaptation and consolidation) while performing a rotational visuo-motor adaptation task (rVMA), and (b) explore cortical activation in the dorsolateral- and ventrolateral-prefrontal cortex areas while learning the rVMA task under rest or post-exercise conditions. Methods: One hundred twenty children will be recruited (60 DCD, 60 controls) and within-cohort randomly assigned to either exercise (13-minute shuttle run task) or rest prior to performing the rVMA task. Adaptation and consolidation will be evaluated via two error variables and three retention tests (1h, 24h and 7 days post adaptation). Cortical activation will be registered via functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) during the baseline, adaptation, and consolidation. Discussion: We expect to find exercise benefits on motor learning and attention so that children with DCD profiles will be closer to those of children with typical development. The results of this project will provide further evidence to: (a) better characterize children with DCD for the design of educational materials, and (b) establish acute exercise as a potential intervention to improve motor learning and attention.