Journal of Neuroscience
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Human primary motor cortex (M1) is essential for producing dexterous hand movements. Although distinct subpopulations of neurons are activated during single-finger movements, it remains unknown whetherM1also represents sequences of multiple finger movements. Using novel multivariate functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis techniques and combining evidence from both 3T and 7T fMRI data, we found that after 5 d of intense practice, premotor and parietal areas encoded the different movement sequences. There was little or no evidence for a sequence representation in M1. Instead, activity patterns in M1 could be fully explained by a linear combination of patterns for the constituent individual finger movements, with the strongest weight on the first finger of the sequence. Using passive replay of sequences, we show that this first-finger effect is due to neuronal processes involved in the active execution, rather than to a hemodynamic nonlinearity. These results suggest thatM1receives increased input from areas with sequence representations at the initiation of a sequence, but thatM1activity itself relates to the execution of component finger presses only. These results improve our understanding of the representation of finger sequences in the human neocortex after short-term training and provide important methodological advances for the study of long-term skill development.