New Directions for Understanding Neural Control in Swallowing: The Potential and Promise of Motor Learning

Ianessa A. Humbert, Rebecca Z. German

Dysphagia, March 2013, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 1-10


Oropharyngeal swallowing is a complex sensorimotor phenomenon that has had decades of research dedicated to understanding it more thoroughly. However, the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for normal and disordered swallowing remain very vague. We consider this gap in knowledge the result of swallowing research that has been broad (identifying phenomena) but not deep (identifying what controls the phenomena). The goals of this review are to address the complexity of motor control of oropharyngeal swallowing and to review the principles of motor learning based on limb movements as a model system. We compare this literature on limb motor learning to what is known about oropharyngeal function as a first step toward suggesting the use of motor learning principles in swallowing research.


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