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Preventing interference between different memory tasks


When learned in quick succession, declarative and motor skill tasks interfere with one another and subsequent recall is impaired. Depending on the order of the tasks, we were able to prevent memory interference in humans by applying transcranial magnetic stimulation to either the dorsolateral prefrontal or the primary motor cortex, and neither memory was impaired. Our observations suggest that distinct mechanisms support the communication between different types of memory processing.

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Figure 1: Experiment 1, interference between word list and motor skill learning.
Figure 2: Experiment 2, interference between motor skill and word list learning.


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We are grateful to R. Brown, L. Iguichi, N. Mosha and S. Tunovic for their assistance with the experiments, and to A. Galaburda, A. Pascual-Leone and R. Stickgold for their encouraging and constructive comments. This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (R01 NS051446 and NS051446-03S1, E.M.R.) and the National Science Foundation (Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences 0921177, E.M.R.). Our work also benefited from the infrastructure supplied by the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (from the National Center for Research Resources, UL1 RR025758 and M01 RR01032).

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D.A.C. conducted the experiments and helped write the manuscript. E.M.R. designed the study, conducted the experiments, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Edwin M Robertson.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–4, Supplementary Introduction, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Discussion and Supplementary Methods (PDF 435 kb)

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Cohen, D., Robertson, E. Preventing interference between different memory tasks. Nat Neurosci 14, 953–955 (2011).

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