Symbolic representations in motor sequence learning

Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 1;54(1):417-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.08.019. Epub 2010 Aug 18.


It has been shown that varying the spatial versus symbolic nature of stimulus presentation and response production, which affects stimulus-response (S-R) mapping requirements, influences the magnitude of implicit sequence learning (Koch and Hoffman, 2000). Here, we evaluated how spatial and symbolic stimuli and responses affect the neural bases of sequence learning. We selectively eliminated the spatial component of stimulus presentation (spatial vs. symbolic), response execution (manual vs. vocal), or both. Fourteen participants performed the alternating serial reaction time task under these conditions in an MRI scanner, with interleaved acquisition to allow for recording of vocal response reaction times. Nine regions of interest (ROIs) were selected to test the hypothesis that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was preferentially engaged for spatially cued conditions and cerebellum lobule HVI, crus I and II were associated with symbolically cued learning. We found that the left cerebellum lobule HVI was selectively recruited for symbolic learning and the percent signal change in this region was correlated with learning magnitude under the symbolic conditions. In contrast, the DLPFC did not exhibit selective activation for learning under spatial conditions. The inferior parietal lobule exhibited increased activation during learning regardless of the condition, supporting its role in forming an abstract representation of learned sequences. These findings reveal different brain networks that are flexibly engaged depending on the conditions of sequence learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Sequence Analysis / methods
  • Space Perception
  • Speech
  • Symbolism
  • Young Adult