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Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is characterized by motor learning deficits that are poorly understood within whole-body activities context. Here we present results of one of the largest non-randomized interventional trials combining brain imaging and motion capture techniques to examine motor skill acquisition and its underpinning mechanisms in adolescents with and without DCD. A total of 86 adolescents with low fitness levels (including 48 with DCD) were trained on a novel stepping task for a duration of 7 weeks. Motor performance during the stepping task was assessed under single and dual-task conditions. Concurrent cortical activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) was measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Additionally, structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was conducted during a similar stepping task at the beginning of the trial. The results indicate that adolescents with DCD performed similarly to their peers with lower levels of fitness in the novel stepping task and demonstrated the ability to learn and improve motor performance. Both groups showed significant improvements in both tasks and under single- and dual-task conditions at post-intervention and follow-up compared to baseline. While both groups initially made more errors in the Stroop task under dual-task conditions, at follow-up, a significant difference between single- and dual-task conditions was observed only in the DCD group. Notably, differences in prefrontal activation patterns between the groups emerged at different time points and task conditions. Adolescents with DCD exhibited distinct prefrontal activation responses during the learning and performance of a motor task, particularly when complexity was increased by concurrent cognitive tasks. Furthermore, a relationship was observed between MRI brain structure and function measures and initial performance in the novel stepping task. Overall, these findings suggest that strategies that address task and environmental complexities, while simultaneously enhancing brain activity through a range of tasks, offer opportunities to increase the participation of adolescents with low fitness in physical activity and sports.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Neurosci

Publication Date





MRI, developmental coordination disorder, fNIRS, frontoparietal networks, motor control, prefrontal cortex