Dopamine and Motor Learning in Cerebral Palsy

  • End date
    May 22, 2025
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)
Updated on 4 October 2022
Accepts healthy volunteers



Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common childhood motor disability. The neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) is important in cognition and emotions/behavior. DA may also be important in motor skill learning. Genes that relate to DA function may affect a person s ability to learn new cognitive or motor skills. Some children with CP can learn motor skills easily while others have trouble. Researchers want to find out if DA gene variations cause some of this variability.


To learn more about how DA and its related genes affect motor and cognitive learning in people with and without CP.


People ages 5 25 with and without CP who can:

Follow the protocol

Attend and perform the training sessions


Participants will be screened with:

Medical history

Physical exam

Blood draw for genetic tests

The study has 2 parts. Participants with CP can join both. Those without can join only Part 1.

All participants will have a baseline assessment: short motor skills test and blood draw.

Part 1:

Two 10-session training programs over 2 weeks. Cognitive training will be 2 sessions at the clinic, 8 at home. Participants will perform memory tasks on a computer. All 10 motor training sessions are at the clinic. Participants will step on lines in a virtual reality environment.

Part 2:

Two lab training sessions at least 1 week apart. Participants will perform tasks on a


Participants with CP may have a brain MRI at 1 visit. They will lie on a table that slides into a machine that takes pictures. They will be in the scanner about 45 minutes. They may have a



The broad objective of this study is to determine the relationship between variations in genes related to dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in areas of the brain associated with motor leaning (e.g. DRD1, DRD2, DRD3, COMT, DAT) and/or to activity-dependent brain plasticity (e.g. BDNF) and differences in motor learning rates and cognitive processing abilities in persons with and without cerebral palsy (CP). We hypothesize that individual genetic differences will be related to the ability to learn new motor and cognitive skills and may thus provide a potential explanation for the often reported response variability to rehabilitative therapies seen in CP. We will also explore whether motor and cognitive learning abilities are correlated within individuals which could suggest similar underlying neural mechanisms. Finally we would like to evaluate the effect of rewards on procedural learning in CP, to preliminarily assess how behavioral manipulations of the DA system may affect learning across individuals.

Study Population: A maximum of 120 ambulatory children and young adults with and without CP (ages 5-25 inclusive) will be enrolled in this protocol.

Design: This protocol will consist of two separate but related studies: Study #1 is an observational trial whereby subjects with and without CP will participate in two different training paradigms, 10 sessions each, one that involves learning novel working memory tasks and one that involves motor skill learning in the lower extremities, adapted from the horizontal ladder task utilized in rodent studies. All will have blood draws for genetic analyses at baseline, the results of which will be related to changes in performance (learning) per task after training.

Study #2 will be a within-subjects evaluation in CP only on the effects of reward (versus no-reward) during learning, which is presumed to increase dopamine transmission. Mean and individual responses to reward-based learning will be assessed and related to genetic variations in dopamine transmission.

For subjects with CP, we would like to obtain brain MRI but this is optional and if they are unable or unwilling to do this portion, they can still participate in this protocol.

Outcome Measures: Primary outcomes are changes in performance (learning) on each task after training which will be related to presence or absence of polymorphisms that have been associated with brain plasticity or with deficits in working memory and/or motor learning. Individual responses to rewards will also be related to variations related to high versus low dopamine transmission in the brain.

Condition Cerebral Palsy
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT02839733
SponsorNational Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)
Last Modified on4 October 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

For all subjects
Ages 5-25 inclusive
Able to follow the study protocol
Able to attend or perform the training sessions as scheduled
Additional criteria for subjects with CP
Diagnosis of cerebral palsy
Gross Motor Functional Classification Scale Level I-II (able to walk at least 10 meters without an assistive device)

Exclusion Criteria

For all subjects
Presence of an injury or other medical condition (besides CP) that would affect motor function or the ability to perform the motor training program
Additional criteria for subjects with CP
Less than 6 months after major surgery to their legs
Currently taking levodopa, trihexyphenidyl, methylphenidate or baclofen since these may affect dopamine transmission or neuroplasticity
Additional criteria for those with CP who choose to have an MRI
Have any of the following contraindications to having an MRI scan
A ventriculo-peritoneal shunt
Have claustrophobia and not comfortable in small enclosed spaces
Have metal that would make an MRI scan unsafe such as: cardiac pacemaker, insulin infusion pump, implanted drug infusion devise, cochlear or ear implant, transdermal medication patch (nitroglycerine), any metallic implants or objects, body piercing that cannot be removed, bone or joint pin, screw, nail, plate, wire sutures or surgical staples, shunts, cerebral aneurysms clips, shrapnel or other metal embedded (such as from war wounds or accidents or previous work in metal fields or machines that may have left any metallic fragments in or near your eyes)
Excessive startle reaction to or fear of loud noises
Clear my responses

How to participate?

Step 1 Connect with a study center
What happens next?
  • You can expect the study team to contact you via email or phone in the next few days.
  • Sign up as volunteer  to help accelerate the development of new treatments and to get notified about similar trials.

You are contacting

Investigator Avatar

Primary Contact


Additional screening procedures may be conducted by the study team before you can be confirmed eligible to participate.

Learn more

If you are confirmed eligible after full screening, you will be required to understand and sign the informed consent if you decide to enroll in the study. Once enrolled you may be asked to make scheduled visits over a period of time.

Learn more

Complete your scheduled study participation activities and then you are done. You may receive summary of study results if provided by the sponsor.

Learn more

Similar trials to consider


Browse trials for

Not finding what you're looking for?

Every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step forward to participate in research. Sign up as a volunteer and receive email notifications when clinical trials are posted in the medical category of interest to you.

Sign up as volunteer

user name

Added by • 



Reply by • Private

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur, adipisicing elit. Ipsa vel nobis alias. Quae eveniet velit voluptate quo doloribus maxime et dicta in sequi, corporis quod. Ea, dolor eius? Dolore, vel!

  The passcode will expire in None.

No annotations made yet

Add a private note
  • abc Select a piece of text from the left.
  • Add notes visible only to you.
  • Send it to people through a passcode protected link.
Add a private note