The aim of this study was to use diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to characterize and compare microscopic differences in white matter integrity in the basal ganglia between elite professional athletes specializing in running and martial arts. Thirty-three young adults with sport-related skills as elite professional runners (n = 11) or elite professional martial artists (n = 11) were recruited and compared with non-athletic and healthy controls (n = 11). All participants underwent health- and skill-related physical fitness assessments. Fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD), the primary indices derived from DTI, were computed for five regions of interest in the bilateral basal ganglia, including the caudate nucleus, putamen, globus pallidus internal segment (GPi), globus pallidus external segment (GPe), and subthalamic nucleus. Results revealed that both athletic groups demonstrated better physical fitness indices compared with their control counterparts, with the running group exhibiting the highest cardiovascular fitness and the martial arts group exhibiting the highest muscular endurance and flexibility. With respect to the basal ganglia, both athletic groups showed significantly lower FA and marginally higher MD values in the GPi compared with the healthy control group. These findings suggest that professional sport or motor skill training is associated with changes in white matter integrity in specific regions of the basal ganglia, although these positive changes did not appear to depend on the type of sport-related motor skill being practiced.
- Globus pallidus
- Sport mode