URL with Digital Object Identifier
Motor-skill learning can be accompanied by both increases and decreases in brain activity. Increases may indicate neural recruitment, while decreases may imply that a region became unimportant or developed a more efficient representation of the skill. These overlapping mechanisms make interpreting learning-related changes of spatially averaged activity difficult. Here we show that motor-skill acquisition is associated with the emergence of highly distinguishable activity patterns for trained movement sequences, in the absence of average activity increases. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants produced either four trained or four untrained finger sequences. Using multivariate pattern analysis, both untrained and trained sequences could be discriminated in primary and secondary motor areas. However, trained sequences were classified more reliably, especially in the supplementary motor area. Our results indicate skill learning leads to the development of specialized neuronal circuits, which allow the execution of fast and accurate sequential movements without average increases in brain activity. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00801.001.