The many facets of motor learning and their relevance for Parkinson's disease

Clin Neurophysiol. 2017 Jul;128(7):1127-1141. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2017.03.042. Epub 2017 Apr 9.


The final goal of motor learning, a complex process that includes both implicit and explicit (or declarative) components, is the optimization and automatization of motor skills. Motor learning involves different neural networks and neurotransmitters systems depending on the type of task and on the stage of learning. After the first phase of acquisition, a motor skill goes through consolidation (i.e., becoming resistant to interference) and retention, processes in which sleep and long-term potentiation seem to play important roles. The studies of motor learning in Parkinson's disease have yielded controversial results that likely stem from the use of different experimental paradigms. When a task's characteristics, instructions, context, learning phase and type of measures are taken into consideration, it is apparent that, in general, only learning that relies on attentional resources and cognitive strategies is affected by PD, in agreement with the finding of a fronto-striatal deficit in this disease. Levodopa administration does not seem to reverse the learning deficits in PD, while deep brain stimulation of either globus pallidus or subthalamic nucleus appears to be beneficial. Finally and most importantly, patients with PD often show a decrease in retention of newly learned skill, a problem that is present even in the early stages of the disease. A thorough dissection and understanding of the processes involved in motor learning is warranted to provide solid bases for effective medical, surgical and rehabilitative approaches in PD.

Keywords: Declarative learning; Dopamine; Exercise; Implicit learning; Levodopa; Plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Levodopa / therapeutic use
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / rehabilitation


  • Levodopa