Early consolidation in human primary motor cortex


Behavioural studies indicate that a newly acquired motor skill is rapidly consolidated from an initially unstable state to a more stable state1, whereas neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the brain engages new regions for performance of the task as a result of this consolidation2. However, it is not known where a new skill is retained and processed before it is firmly consolidated. Some early aspects of motor skill acquisition involve the primary motor cortex (M1)3, but the nature of that involvement is unclear. We tested the possibility that the human M1 is essential to early motor consolidation. We monitored changes in elementary motor behaviour while subjects practised fast finger movements that rapidly improved in movement acceleration and muscle force generation. Here we show that low-frequency, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation of M1 but not other brain areas specifically disrupted the retention of the behavioural improvement, but did not affect basal motor behaviour, task performance, motor learning by subsequent practice, or recall of the newly acquired motor skill. These findings indicate that the human M1 is specifically engaged during the early stage of motor consolidation.

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Figure 1: Effects of motor practice and rTMS on motor learning and early motor consolidation: acceleration data.
Figure 2: Effects of motor practice and rTMS on motor learning and early motor consolidation: force data.
Figure 3: Effects of rTMS of M1 on the recall of the newly learned motor task: MP+rTMS-M1-6h experiment.
Figure 4: Interaction of focal rTMS with motor cortex excitability.


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We thank our subjects for their cooperation, J.-P. Ndayisaba for technical assistance, and D. G. Schoenberg for editing. W.M. was supported by the Max Kade Foundation.

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Correspondence to Mark Hallett.

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Muellbacher, W., Ziemann, U., Wissel, J. et al. Early consolidation in human primary motor cortex. Nature 415, 640–644 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature712

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