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J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 2;34(14):5054-64. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5363-13.2014.

Effector-independent motor sequence representations exist in extrinsic and intrinsic reference frames.

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Institutes of Cognitive Neuroscience and Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3AR, United Kingdom.


Many daily activities rely on the ability to produce meaningful sequences of movements. Motor sequences can be learned in an effector-specific fashion (such that benefits of training are restricted to the trained hand) or an effector-independent manner (meaning that learning also facilitates performance with the untrained hand). Effector-independent knowledge can be represented in extrinsic/world-centered or in intrinsic/body-centered coordinates. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and multivoxel pattern analysis to determine the distribution of intrinsic and extrinsic finger sequence representations across the human neocortex. Participants practiced four sequences with one hand for 4 d, and then performed these sequences during fMRI with both left and right hand. Between hands, these sequences were equivalent in extrinsic or intrinsic space, or were unrelated. In dorsal premotor cortex (PMd), we found that sequence-specific activity patterns correlated higher for extrinsic than for unrelated pairs, providing evidence for an extrinsic sequence representation. In contrast, primary sensory and motor cortices showed effector-independent representations in intrinsic space, with considerable overlap of the two reference frames in caudal PMd. These results suggest that effector-independent representations exist not only in world-centered, but also in body-centered coordinates, and that PMd may be involved in transforming sequential knowledge between the two. Moreover, although effector-independent sequence representations were found bilaterally, they were stronger in the hemisphere contralateral to the trained hand. This indicates that intermanual transfer relies on motor memories that are laid down during training in both hemispheres, but preferentially draws upon sequential knowledge represented in the trained hemisphere.


coordinate transformations; intermanual transfer; motor sequences; multivoxel pattern analysis; skill learning

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