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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2013, Vol. 25, No. 11, Pages 2003-2014
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00439)
© 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sleep-dependent Neurophysiological Processes in Implicit Sequence Learning
Article PDF (639.57 KB)

Behavioral studies have cast doubts about the role that posttraining sleep may play in the consolidation of implicit sequence learning. Here, we used event-related fMRI to test the hypothesis that sleep-dependent functional reorganization would take place in the underlying neural circuits even in the possible absence of obvious behavioral changes. Twenty-four healthy human adults were scanned at Day 1 and then at Day 4 during an implicit probabilistic serial RT task. They either slept normally (RS) or were sleep-deprived (SD) on the first posttraining night. Unknown to them, the sequential structure of the material was based on a probabilistic finite-state grammar, with 15% chance on each trial of replacing the rules-based grammatical (G) stimulus with a nongrammatical (NG) one. Results indicated a gradual differentiation across sessions between RTs (faster RTs for G than NG), together with NG-related BOLD responses reflecting sequence learning. Similar behavioral patterns were observed in RS and SD participants at Day 4, indicating time- but not sleep-dependent consolidation of performance. Notwithstanding, we observed at Day 4 in the RS group a diminished differentiation between G- and NG-related neurophysiological responses in a set of cortical and subcortical areas previously identified as being part of the network involved in implicit sequence learning and its offline processing during sleep, indicating a sleep-dependent processing of both regular and deviant stimuli. Our results suggest the sleep-dependent development of distinct neurophysiological processes subtending consolidation of implicit motor sequence learning, even in the absence of overt behavioral differences.