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Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 14;20(17):1545-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.07.047.

Modification of existing human motor memories is enabled by primary cortical processing during memory reactivation.

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


One of the most challenging tasks of the brain is to constantly update the internal neural representations of existing memories. Animal studies have used invasive methods such as direct microfusion of protein inhibitors to designated brain areas, in order to study the neural mechanisms underlying modification of already existing memories after their reactivation during recall [1-4]. Because such interventions are not possible in humans, it is not known how these neural processes operate in the human brain. In a series of experiments we show here that when an existing human motor memory is reactivated during recall, modification of the memory is blocked by virtual lesion [5] of the related primary cortical human brain area. The virtual lesion was induced by noninvasive repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation guided by a frameless stereotactic brain navigation system and each subject's brain image. The results demonstrate that primary cortical processing in the human brain interacting with pre-existing reactivated memory traces is critical for successful modification of the existing related memory. Modulation of reactivated memories by noninvasive cortical stimulation may have important implications for human memory research and have far-reaching clinical applications.

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