Patterns of regional brain activation associated with different forms of motor learning

Maria Felice Ghilardi, Claude Ghez, Vijay Dhawan, James Moeller, Marc Mentis, Toshitaka Nakamura, Angelo Antonini, David Eidelberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


To examine the variations in regional cerebral blood flow during execution and learning of reaching movements, we employed a family of kinematically and dynamically controlled motor tasks in which cognitive, mnemonic and executive features of performance were differentiated and characterized quantitatively. During 15O-labeled water positron emission tomography (PET) scans, twelve right-handed subjects moved their dominant hand on a digitizing tablet from a central location to equidistant targets displayed with a cursor on a computer screen in synchrony with a tone. In the preceding week, all subjects practiced three motor tasks: 1) movements to a predictable sequence of targets; 2) learning of new visuomotor transformations in which screen cursor motion was rotated by 30°-60°; 3) learning new target sequences by trial and error, by using previously acquired routines in a task placing heavy load on spatial working memory. The control condition was observing screen and audio displays. Subtraction images were analyzed with Statistical Parametric Mapping to identify significant brain activation foci. Execution of predictable sequences was characterized by a modest decrease in movement time and spatial error. The underlying pattern of activation involved primary motor and sensory areas, cerebellum, basal ganglia. Adaptation to a rotated reference frame, a form of procedural learning, was associated with decrease in the imposed directional bias. This task was associated with activation in the right posterior parietal cortex. New sequences were learned explicitly. Significant activation was found in dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices. In this study, we have introduced a series of flexible motor tasks with similar kinematic characteristics and different spatial attributes. These tasks can be used to assess specific aspects of motor learning with imaging in health and disease. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-145
Number of pages19
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 14 2000


  • Automaticity
  • Motor learning
  • Procedural learning
  • Reaching movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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    Ghilardi, M. F., Ghez, C., Dhawan, V., Moeller, J., Mentis, M., Nakamura, T., Antonini, A., & Eidelberg, D. (2000). Patterns of regional brain activation associated with different forms of motor learning. Brain Research, 871(1), 127-145.