Acute cardiovascular exercise can promote motor memory consolidation following motor practice, and thus long-term retention, but the underlying mechanisms remain sparsely elucidated. Here we test the hypothesis that the positive behavioral effects of acute exercise involve the primary motor cortex and the corticospinal pathway by interfering with motor memory consolidation using non-invasive, low frequency, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Forty-eight able-bodied, young adult male participants (mean age = 24.8 y/o) practiced a visuomotor accuracy task demanding precise and fast pinch force control. Following motor practice, participants either rested or exercised (20 min total: 3 × 3 min at 90% VO2peak) before receiving either sham rTMS or supra-threshold rTMS (115% RMT, 1 Hz) targeting the hand area of the contralateral primary motor cortex for 20 min. Retention was evaluated 24 h following motor practice, and motor memory consolidation was operationalized as overnight changes in motor performance. Low-frequency rTMS resulted in off-line decrements in motor performance compared to sham rTMS, but these were counteracted by a preceding bout of intense exercise. These findings demonstrate that a single session of exercise promotes early motor memory stabilization and protects the primary motor cortex and the corticospinal system against interference.
Keywords: memory interference; motor learning; neuroplasticity; physical activity; skill learning.
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