Role of Broca's area in implicit motor skill learning: evidence from continuous theta-burst magnetic stimulation.

Journal of cognitive neuroscience

PubMedID: 21812572

Clerget E, Poncin W, Fadiga L, Olivier E. Role of Broca's area in implicit motor skill learning: evidence from continuous theta-burst magnetic stimulation. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012;24(1):80-92.
Complex actions can be regarded as a concatenation of simple motor acts, arranged according to specific rules. Because the caudal part of the Broca's region (left Brodmann's area 44, BA 44) is involved in processing hierarchically organized behaviors, we aimed to test the hypothesis that this area may also play a role in learning structured motor sequences. To address this issue, we investigated the inhibitory effects of a continuous theta-burst TMS (cTBS) applied over left BA 44 in healthy subjects, just before they performed a serial RT task (SRTT). SRTT has been widely used to study motor skill learning and is also of interest because, for complex structured sequences, subjects spontaneously organize them into smaller subsequences, referred to as chunks. As a control, cTBS was applied over the vertex in another group, which underwent the same experiment. Control subjects showed both a general practice learning effect, evidenced by a progressive decrease in RT across blocks and a sequence-specific learning effect, demonstrated by a significant RT increase in a pseudorandom sequence. In contrast, when cTBS was applied over left BA 44, subjects lacked both the general practice and sequence-specific learning effects. However, surprisingly, their chunking pattern was preserved and remained indistinguishable from controls. The present study indicates that left BA 44 plays a role in motor sequence learning, but without being involved in elementary chunking. This dissociation between chunking and sequence learning could be explained if we postulate that left BA 44 intervenes in high hierarchical level processing, possibly to integrate elementary chunks together.