Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
In explicit sequence learning tasks, an improvement in performance (skill) typically occurs after sleep—leading to the recent literature on sleep-dependent motor consolidation. Consolidation can also be facilitated during wakefulness if declarative knowledge for the sequence is reduced through a secondary cognitive task. Accordingly, declarative and procedural consolidation processes appear to mutually interact. Here we used TMS to test the hypothesis that functions in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) that support declarative memory formation indirectly reduce the formation of procedural representations. We hypothesize that disrupting the DLPFC immediately after sequence learning would degrade the retention or the consolidation of the sequence within the declarative memory system and thus facilitate consolidation within procedural memory systems, evident as wakeful off-line skill improvement. Inhibitory theta-burst TMS was applied to the left DLPFC (n = 10), to the right DLPFC (n = 10), or to an occipital cortical control site (n = 10) immediately after training on the serial reaction time task (SRTT). All groups were retested after eight daytime hours without sleep. TMS of either left or right DLPFC lead to skill improvements on the SRTT. Increase in skill was greater following right DLPFC stimulation than left DLPFC stimulation; there was no improvement in skill for the control group. Across all participants, free recall of the sequence was inversely related to the improvements in performance on the SRTT. These results support the hypothesis of interference between declarative and procedural consolidation processes and are discussed in the framework of the interactions between memory systems.