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, 2017, 3162087

Learning "How to Learn": Super Declarative Motor Learning Is Impaired in Parkinson's Disease

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Learning "How to Learn": Super Declarative Motor Learning Is Impaired in Parkinson's Disease

Lucio Marinelli et al. Neural Plast.

Abstract

Learning new information is crucial in daily activities and occurs continuously during a subject's lifetime. Retention of learned material is required for later recall and reuse, although learning capacity is limited and interference between consecutively learned information may occur. Learning processes are impaired in Parkinson's disease (PD); however, little is known about the processes related to retention and interference. The aim of this study is to investigate the retention and anterograde interference using a declarative sequence learning task in drug-naive patients in the disease's early stages. Eleven patients with PD and eleven age-matched controls learned a visuomotor sequence, SEQ1, during Day1; the following day, retention of SEQ1 was assessed and, immediately after, a new sequence of comparable complexity, SEQ2, was learned. The comparison of the learning rates of SEQ1 on Day1 and SEQ2 on Day2 assessed the anterograde interference of SEQ1 on SEQ2. We found that SEQ1 performance improved in both patients and controls on Day2. Surprisingly, controls learned SEQ2 better than SEQ1, suggesting the absence of anterograde interference and the occurrence of learning optimization, a process that we defined as "learning how to learn." Patients with PD lacked such improvement, suggesting defective performance optimization processes.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Experimental paradigm. Random multiple-choice reaction time tasks (RAN) preceded sequence learning tasks (SEQ1 and SEQ2) during two consecutive days (Day1 and Day2). Both SEQ1 and SEQ2 sequences had a comparable complexity. The comparison of learning indices (correctly anticipated movements (CAM)) of SEQ1 between Day1 and Day2 allowed the assessment of declarative learning retention; the comparison of SEQ1 at Day1 and SEQ2 at Day2 allowed the assessment of anterograde interference of repeated learning of SEQ1 over SEQ2. Shades of gray reflect the actual target sequence (lighter to darker).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Time course of correctly anticipated movements (CAM) in PD patients (solid line) and normal controls (dotted line) during for SEQ1 at Day1 and SEQ2 at Day2. In PD, SEQ1 and SEQ2 are learned in a similar way, while in controls, SEQ2 is learned better, reflecting “learning how to learn.” Vertical bars report variability as standard error.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Direct comparison of the time courses of CAM in PD (solid line) and controls (dotted line) during SEQ1 at Day1, reflecting a reduced learning process in PD patients. Vertical bars report variability as standard error.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Time course of CAM in PD (solid line) and controls (dotted line) between SEQ1 at Day1 and SEQ1 at Day2, reflecting sequence retention after a night of sleep. Both groups undergo retention, even if overall, the number of CAM is higher in controls. Vertical bars report variability as standard error.

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