Imaging brain plasticity during motor skill learning

Leslie G. Ungerleider, Julien Doyon, Avi Karni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The search for the neural substrates mediating the incremental acquisition of skilled motor behaviors has been the focus of a large body of animal and human studies in the past decade. Much less is known, however, with regard to the dynamic neural changes that occur in the motor system during the different phases of learning. In this paper, we review recent findings, mainly from our own work using fMRI, which suggest that: (i) the learning of sequential finger movements produces a slowly evolving reorganization within primary motor cortex (M1) over the course of weeks and (ii) this change in M1 follows more dynamic, rapid changes in the cerebellum, striatum, and other motor-related cortical areas over the course of days. We also briefly review neurophysiological and psychophysical evidence for the consolidation of motor skills, and we propose a working hypothesis of its underlying neural substrate in motor sequence learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-564
Number of pages12
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank our collaborators, M. M Adams, P. Jezzard, F. Lalonde, G. Meyer, C. Rey-Hipolito, A. W. Song, and R. Turner. We also thank E. Gutierrez for technical assistance in preparing the manuscript. Some of the material included in this paper appears in A. Karni et al., 1998, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95, 861–868, and in J. Doyon and L. G. Ungerleider, 2002, Neuropsychology of memory, 3rd ed., L. R. Squire and D. L Schacter (Eds.), Guilford Press, New York. This work was supported, in part, by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to J. D. and through funding from the NIMH-IRP to L.G.U.


  • Consolidation
  • Humans
  • Motor cortex
  • Motor sequence learning
  • Procedural memory
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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