Binding During Sequence Learning Does Not Alter Cortical Representations of Individual Actions

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The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience





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Copyright © 2019 the authors. As a sequence of movements is learned, serially ordered actions get bound together into sets to reduce computational complexity during planning and execution. Here, we investigated how actions become naturally bound over the course of learning and how this learning affects cortical representations of individual actions. Across 5 weeks of practice, neurologically healthy human subjects learned either a complex 32-item sequence of finger movements (trained group, n = 9; 3 female) or randomly ordered actions (control group, n = 9; 3 female). Over the course of practice, responses during sequence production in the trained group became temporally correlated, consistent with responses being bound together under a common command. These behavioral changes, however, did not coincide with plasticity in the multivariate representations of individual finger movements, assessed using fMRI, at any level of the cortical motor hierarchy. This suggests that the representations of individual actions remain stable, even as the execution of those same actions become bound together in the context of producing a well learned sequence.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Extended practice on motor sequences results in highly stereotyped movement patterns that bind successive movements together. This binding is critical for skilled motor performance, yet it is not currently understood how it is achieved in the brain. We examined how binding altered the patterns of activity associated with individual movements that make up the sequence. We found that fine finger control during sequence production involved correlated activity throughout multiple motor regions; however, we found no evidence for plasticity of the representations of elementary movements. This suggests that binding is associated with plasticity at a more abstract level of the motor hierarchy.

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