Journal of Neurophysiology

Neural substrates of graphomotor sequence learning: A combined fMRI and kinematic study

Bruce A. Swett, Jose L. Contreras-Vidal, Rasmus Birn, Allen R. Braun

Abstract

The goal of this study was to characterize the dynamics and functional connectivity of brain networks associated with fast (short-term) learning of handwriting using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants (n=12) performed a graphomotor sequence learning task (naïve subjects learning to draw simple, three-stroke Chinese word characters), which focused the learning process on the kinematic aspects of sequence learning instead of on the production of the line segments. Learning of the graphomotor sequence was demonstrated by a progressive improvement in movement smoothness as assessed by normalized jerk scores. Examination of the patterns of regional neural activity and functional connectivity during sequence learning demonstrated that cortical regions, which may support visuomotor mapping components of the task, were active prior to sub-cortical areas that may play a role in encoding and refining the novel sequences. Importantly, differences in the time course of recruitment of basal ganglia and cerebellar networks suggest distinct but integrated roles in the encoding and refining of the handwritten sequences. This implies multiple kinematic representations of graphomotor trajectories may be encoded at various spatio-temporal scales.

  • Sequence Learning
  • Graphomotor
  • Basal Ganglia
  • Cerebellum