Sleep-dependent motor memory plasticity in the human brain

Neuroscience. 2005;133(4):911-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.04.007.


Growing evidence indicates a role for sleep in off-line memory processing, specifically in post-training consolidation. In humans, sleep has been shown to trigger overnight learning on a motor-sequence memory task, while equivalent waking periods produce no such improvement. But while the behavioral characteristics of sleep-dependent motor learning become increasingly well characterized, the underlying neural basis remains unknown. Here we present functional magnetic resonance imaging data demonstrating a change in the representation of a motor memory after a night of sleep. Subjects trained on a motor-skill memory and 12 hours later, after either sleep or wake, were retested during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Following sleep relative to wake, regions of increased activation were expressed in the right primary motor cortex, medial prefrontal lobe, hippocampus and left cerebellum; changes that can support faster motor output and more precise mapping of key-press movements. In contrast, signal decreases were identified in parietal cortices, the left insular cortex, temporal pole and fronto-polar region, reflecting a reduced need for conscious spatial monitoring and a decreased emotional task burden. This evidence of an overnight, systems-level change in the representation of a motor memory holds important implications for acquiring real-life skills and in clinical rehabilitation following brain trauma, such as stroke.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Oxygen