Purpose of review: New insights into the psychophysiological determinants of performance changes and brain plasticity associated with motor sequence learning have recently been gained through behavioral and imaging studies in healthy individuals. In addition, using a variety of motor sequential paradigms in groups of patients affected by a movement disorder, major advances have been achieved in our understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, as well as primary forms of dystonia.
Recent findings: This review begins by describing the latest findings in normal participants with regards to the dynamic alterations in neural networks observed across the different phases of motor sequence learning. It then focuses on the hotly debated issue of motor memory consolidation, highlighting the results of novel studies that investigated the role of both day and night sleep, the neural substrates and the developmental evolution mediating this process. Finally, this paper addresses current work looking at motor sequence learning in movement disorders that helps to better comprehend the functional contribution of basal ganglia structures to this type of memory, to assess the impact of such diseases on related patterns of brain activation, as well as to identify the neuronal compensatory mechanisms educed by these basal ganglia disorders.
Summary: Such advances have major implications, not only for optimizing ways to learn new skilled behaviors in real-life situations, but also for guiding therapeutic approaches in patients with movement disorders.