• Open Access

Using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to study the underlying neural mechanisms of human motor learning and memory

Authors

  • Nitzan Censor,

    1. Human Cortical Physiology and Stroke Neurorehabilitation Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
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  • Leonardo G. Cohen

    1. Human Cortical Physiology and Stroke Neurorehabilitation Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
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Corresponding author L. G. Cohen: NINDS, National Institutes of Health, Human Cortical Physiology Section, Building 10, Room 5N226, 10 Center Drive, MSC 1430, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. Email: cohenl@ninds.nih.gov

Abstract

In the last two decades, there has been a rapid development in the research of the physiological brain mechanisms underlying human motor learning and memory. While conventional memory research performed on animal models uses intracellular recordings, microfusion of protein inhibitors to specific brain areas and direct induction of focal brain lesions, human research has so far utilized predominantly behavioural approaches and indirect measurements of neural activity. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a safe non-invasive brain stimulation technique, enables the study of the functional role of specific cortical areas by evaluating the behavioural consequences of selective modulation of activity (excitation or inhibition) on memory generation and consolidation, contributing to the understanding of the neural substrates of motor learning. Depending on the parameters of stimulation, rTMS can also facilitate learning processes, presumably through purposeful modulation of excitability in specific brain regions. rTMS has also been used to gain valuable knowledge regarding the timeline of motor memory formation, from initial encoding to stabilization and long-term retention. In this review, we summarize insights gained using rTMS on the physiological and neural mechanisms of human motor learning and memory. We conclude by suggesting possible future research directions, some with direct clinical implications.

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