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Keywords:

  • dorsal premotor cortex;
  • implicit motor learning;
  • offline motor learning;
  • online motor learning;
  • repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

Abstract

Consolidation of motor memories associated with skilled practice can occur both online, concurrent with practice, and offline, after practice has ended. The current study investigated the role of dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) in early offline motor memory consolidation of implicit sequence-specific learning. Thirty-three participants were assigned to one of three groups of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over left PMd (5 Hz, 1 Hz or control) immediately following practice of a novel continuous tracking task. There was no additional practice following rTMS. This procedure was repeated for 4 days. The continuous tracking task contained a repeated sequence that could be learned implicitly and random sequences that could not. On a separate fifth day, a retention test was performed to assess implicit sequence-specific motor learning of the task. Tracking error was decreased for the group who received 1 Hz rTMS over the PMd during the early consolidation period immediately following practice compared with control or 5 Hz rTMS. Enhanced sequence-specific learning with 1 Hz rTMS following practice was due to greater offline consolidation, not differences in online learning between the groups within practice days. A follow-up experiment revealed that stimulation of PMd following practice did not differentially change motor cortical excitability, suggesting that changes in offline consolidation can be largely attributed to stimulation-induced changes in PMd. These findings support a differential role for the PMd in support of online and offline sequence-specific learning of a visuomotor task and offer converging evidence for competing memory systems.