Motor cortex is required for learning but not for executing a motor skill

Neuron. 2015 May 6;86(3):800-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.03.024. Epub 2015 Apr 16.


Motor cortex is widely believed to underlie the acquisition and execution of motor skills, but its contributions to these processes are not fully understood. One reason is that studies on motor skills often conflate motor cortex's established role in dexterous control with roles in learning and producing task-specific motor sequences. To dissociate these aspects, we developed a motor task for rats that trains spatiotemporally precise movement patterns without requirements for dexterity. Remarkably, motor cortex lesions had no discernible effect on the acquired skills, which were expressed in their distinct pre-lesion forms on the very first day of post-lesion training. Motor cortex lesions prior to training, however, rendered rats unable to acquire the stereotyped motor sequences required for the task. These results suggest a remarkable capacity of subcortical motor circuits to execute learned skills and a previously unappreciated role for motor cortex in "tutoring" these circuits during learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Ibotenic Acid / toxicity
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / injuries
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology


  • Ibotenic Acid