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Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(7):855-67.

Changes in brain activation during the acquisition of a new bimanual coodination task.

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Motor Control Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, F.L.O.K. Group Biomedical Sciences, K.U. Leuven, Tervuurse Vest 101, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium.


Motor skill acquisition is associated with the development of automaticity and induces neuroplastic changes in the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the present study traced learning-related activation changes during the acquisition of a new complex bimanual skill, requiring a difficult spatio-temporal relationship between the limbs, i.e., cyclical flexion-extension movements of both hands with a phase offset of 90 degrees. Subjects were scanned during initial learning and after the coordination pattern was established. Kinematics of the movements were accurately registered and showed that the new skill was acquired well. Learning-related decreases in activation were found in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), right premotor, bilateral superior parietal cortex, and left cerebellar lobule VI. Conversely, learning-related increases in activation were observed in bilateral primary motor cortex, bilateral superior temporal gyrus, bilateral cingulate motor cortex (CMC), left premotor cortex, cerebellar dentate nuclei/lobule III/IV/Crus I, putamen/globus pallidus and thalamus. Accordingly, bimanual skill learning was associated with a shift in activation among cortico-subcortical regions, providing further evidence for the existence of differential cortico-subcortical circuits preferentially involved during the early and advanced stages of learning. The observed activation changes account for the transition from highly attention-demanding task performance, involving processing of sensory information and corrective action planning, to automatic performance based on memory representations and forward control.

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