cTBS disruption of the supplementary motor area perturbs cortical sequence representation but not behavioural performance

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Abstract

Neuroimaging studies have repeatedly emphasized the role of the supplementary motor area (SMA) in motor sequence learning, but interferential approaches have led to inconsistent findings. Here, we aimed to test the role of the SMA in motor skill learning by combining interferential and neuroimaging techniques. Sixteen subjects were trained on simple finger movement sequences for 4 days. Afterwards, they underwent two neuroimaging sessions, in which they executed both trained and novel sequences. Prior to entering the scanner, the subjects received inhibitory transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the SMA or a control site. Using multivariate fMRI analysis, we confirmed that motor training enhances the neural representation of motor sequences in the SMA, in accordance with previous findings. However, although SMA inhibition altered sequence representation (i.e. between-sequence decoding accuracy) in this area, behavioural performance remained unimpaired. Our findings question the causal link between the neuroimaging correlate of elementary motor sequence representation in the SMA and sequence generation, calling for a more thorough investigation of the role of this region in performance of learned motor sequences.

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