Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

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.


  1. Brashers-Krug, T., Shadmehr, R. & Bizzi, E. Consolidation in human motor memory. Nature 382, 252–255 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Shadmehr, R. & Holcomb, H. H. Neural correlates of motor memory consolidation. Science 277, 821–825 (1997)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Karni, A. et al. Functional MRI evidence for adult motor cortex plasticity during motor skill learning. Nature 377, 155–158 (1995)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Honda, M. et al. Dynamic cortical involvement in implicit and explicit motor sequence learning. A PET study. Brain 121, 2159–2173 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Muellbacher, W., Ziemann, U., Boroojerdi, B., Cohen, L. & Hallett, M. Role of human primary motor cortex in rapid motor learning. Exp. Brain Res. 136, 431–438 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Jenkins, I. H., Brooks, D. J., Nixon, P. D., Frackowiak, R. S. & Passingham, R. E. Motor sequence learning: a study with positron emission tomography. J. Neurosci. 14, 3775–3790 (1994)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Nudo, R. J., Milliken, G. W., Jenkins, W. M. & Merzenich, M. M. Use-dependent alterations of movement representations in primary motor cortex of adult squirrel monkeys. J. Neurosci. 16, 785–807 (1996)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Classen, J., Liepert, J., Wise, S. P., Hallett, M. & Cohen, L. G. Rapid plasticity of human cortical movement representation induced by practice. J. Neurophysiol. 79, 1117–1123 (1998)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Wassermann, E. M. et al. Use and safety of a new repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulator. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 101, 412–417 (1996)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Chen, R. et al. Depression of motor cortex excitability by low-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation. Neurology 48, 1398–1403 (1997)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Kosslyn, S. et al. The role of area 17 in visual imagery: convergent evidence from PET and rTMS. Science 284, 167–170 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Abbott, L. F., Varela, J. A., Sen, K. & Nelson, S. B. Synaptic depression and cortical gain control. Science 275, 220–224 (1997)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Hess, G. & Donoghue, J. P. Long-term potentiation and long-term depression of horizontal connections in rat motor cortex. Acta Neurobiol. Exp. (Warsz) 56, 397–405 (1996)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Gerloff, C., Corwell, B., Chen, R., Hallett, M. & Cohen, L. G. The role of the human motor cortex in the control of complex and simple finger movement sequences. Brain 121, 1695–1709 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Paus, T. et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation during positron emission tomography: a new method for studying connectivity of the human cerebral cortex. J. Neurosci. 17, 3178–3184 (1997)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Hess, G., Aizenman, C. D. & Donoghue, J. P. Conditions for the induction of long-term potentiation in layer II/III horizontal connections of the rat motor cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 75, 1765–1778 (1996)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Hess, G. & Donoghue, J. P. Long-term depression of horizontal connections in rat motor cortex. Eur. J. Neurosci. 8, 658–665 (1996)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Rioult-Pedotti, M. S., Friedman, D., Hess, G. & Donoghue, J. P. Strengthening of horizontal cortical connections following skill learning. Nature Neurosci. 1, 230–234 (1998)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Rioult-Pedotti, M., Friedman, D. & Donoghue, J. Learning-induced LTP in neocortex. Science 290, 533–536 (2000)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Gandolfo, F., Li, C., Benda, B. J., Schioppa, C. P. & Bizzi, E. Cortical correlates of learning in monkeys adapting to a new dynamical environment. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 2259–2263 (2000)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Li, C. S., Padoa-Schioppa, C. & Bizzi, E. Neuronal correlates of motor performance and motor learning in the primary motor cortex of monkeys adapting to an external force field. Neuron 30, 593–607 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Wassermann, E. M. Risk and safety of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation: Report and suggested guidelines from the international workshop on the safety of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. June 5–7, 1996. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 108, 1–16 (1998)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Pascual-Leone, A., Wassermann, E. M., Grafman, J. & Hallett, M. The role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in implicit procedural learning. Exp. Brain Res. 107, 479–485 (1996)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mark Hallett.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Muellbacher, W., Ziemann, U., Wissel, J. et al. Early consolidation in human primary motor cortex. Nature 415, 640–644 (2002).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing