Improving consolidation by applying anodal transcranial direct current stimulation at primary motor cortex during repetitive practice

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2021 Feb;178:107365. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2020.107365. Epub 2020 Dec 19.


Engagement of primary motor cortex (M1) is important for successful consolidation of motor skills. Recruitment of M1 has been reported to be more extensive during interleaved compared to repetitive practice and this differential recruitment has been proposed to contribute to the long-term retention benefit associated with interleaved practice. The present study administered anodal direct current stimulation (tDCS) during repetitive practice in an attempt to increase M1 activity throughout repetitive practice with the goal to improve the retention performance of individuals exposed to this training format. Fifty-four participants were assigned to one of three experimental groups that included: interleaved-sham, repetitive-sham, and repetitive-anodal tDCS. Real or sham stimulation at M1 was administered during practice of three motor sequences for approximately 20-min. Performance in the absence of any stimulation was evaluated prior to practice, immediately after practice as well as at 6-hr, and 24-h after practice was complete. As expected, for the sham conditions, interleaved as opposed repetitive practice resulted in superior offline gain. This was manifest as more rapid stabilization of performance after 6-h as well as an enhancement in performance with a period of overnight sleep. Administration of anodal stimulation at M1 during repetitive practice improved offline gains assessed at both 6-h and 24-h tests compared to the repetitive practice sham group. These data are consistent with the claims that reduced activation at M1 during repetitive practice impedes offline gain relative to interleaved practice and that M1 plays an important role in early consolidation of novel motor skills even in the context of the simultaneous acquisition of multiple new skills. Moreover, these findings highlight a possible role for M1 during sleep-related consolidation, possibly as part of a network including the dorsal premotor region, which supports delayed performance enhancement.

Keywords: Consolidation; Contextual interference; Interleaved practice; Motor learning; Primary motor cortex (M1); Repetitive practice; Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*