Role of the striatum, cerebellum and frontal lobes in the automatization of a repeated visuomotor sequence of movements

Neuropsychologia. 1998 Jul;36(7):625-41. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(97)00168-1.


Recently, Doyon et al. [20] demonstrated that lesions to both the striatum and to the cerebellum in humans produce a similar deficit in the learning of a repeated visuomotor sequence, which occurs late in the acquisition process. We now report the results of two experiments that were designed to examine whether this impairment was due to a lack of automatization of the repeating sequence of finger movements by using a dual-task paradigm and by testing for long-term retention of this skill. In Experiment 1, the performance of groups of patients with Parkinson's disease, or with damage to the cerebellum or to the frontal lobes, was compared to that of matched control subjects on the Repeated Sequence Test (primary task) and the Brooks' Matrices Test (secondary task). These two tests were administered concomitantly in both early and late learning phases of the visuomotor sequence. Overall, the groups did not differ in their ability to execute the primary task. By contrast, in accordance with the predictions, patients in Stages 2-3 of Parkinson's disease or with a cerebellar lesion failed to reveal the expected increase in performance on the secondary task seen with learning, suggesting that the latter groups of patients did not have access to the same level of residual cognitive resources to complete the matrices compared to controls. In Experiment 2, the same groups of patients and control subjects were retested again 10-18 months later. They were given four blocks of 100 trials each of the repeating sequence task, followed by a questionnaire and a self-generation task that measured their declarative knowledge of that sequence. The results revealed a long-term retention impairment only in patients who changed from Stage I to Stage II of the disease (suggesting further striatal degeneration) during the one-year interval, or who had a cerebellar lesion. By contrast, performance of the three clinical groups did not differ from controls on declarative memory tests. These findings suggest that both the striatum and the cerebellum participate to the automatization process during the late (slow) learning stage of a sequence of finger movements and that these structures also play a role in the neuronal mechanism subserving long-term retention of such a motor sequence behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*