Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The brain localization of motor sequence learning was studied in normal subjects with positron emission tomography. Subjects performed a serial reaction time (SRT) task by responding to a series of stimuli that occurred at four different spatial positions. The stimulus locations were either determined randomly or according to a 6-element sequence that cycled continuously. The SRT task was performed under two conditions. With attentional interference from a secondary counting task there was no development of awareness of the sequence. Learning-related increases of cerebral blood flow were located in contralateral motor effector areas including motor cortex, supplementary motor area, and putamen, consistent with the hypothesis that nondeclarative motor learning occurs in cerebral areas that control limb movements. Additional cortical sites included the rostral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex. The SRT learning task was then repeated with a new sequence and no attentional interference. In this condition, 7 of 12 subjects developed awareness of the sequence. Learning-related blood flow increases were present in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right premotor cortex, right ventral putamen, and biparieto-occipital cortex. The right dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal areas have been previously implicated in spatial working memory and right prefrontal cortex is also implicated in retrieval tasks of verbal episodic memory. Awareness of the sequence at the end of learning was associated with greater activity in bilateral parietal, superior temporal, and right premotor cortex. Motor learning can take place in different cerebral areas, contingent on the attentional demands of the task.