Posttraining transcranial magnetic stimulation of striate cortex disrupts consolidation early in visual skill learning

J Neurosci. 2012 Feb 8;32(6):1981-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3712-11.2011.


Practice-induced improvements in skilled performance reflect "offline " consolidation processes extending beyond daily training sessions. According to visual learning theories, an early, fast learning phase driven by high-level areas is followed by a late, asymptotic learning phase driven by low-level, retinotopic areas when higher resolution is required. Thus, low-level areas would not contribute to learning and offline consolidation until late learning. Recent studies have challenged this notion, demonstrating modified responses to trained stimuli in primary visual cortex (V1) and offline activity after very limited training. However, the behavioral relevance of modified V1 activity for offline consolidation of visual skill memory in V1 after early training sessions remains unclear. Here, we used neuronavigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) directed to a trained retinotopic V1 location to test for behaviorally relevant consolidation in human low-level visual cortex. Applying TMS to the trained V1 location within 45 min of the first or second training session strongly interfered with learning, as measured by impaired performance the next day. The interference was conditional on task context and occurred only when training in the location targeted by TMS was followed by training in a second location before TMS. In this condition, high-level areas may become coupled to the second location and uncoupled from the previously trained low-level representation, thereby rendering consolidation vulnerable to interference. Our data show that, during the earliest phases of skill learning in the lowest-level visual areas, a behaviorally relevant form of consolidation exists of which the robustness is controlled by high-level, contextual factors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult