Dissociable implicit sequence learning mechanisms revealed by continuous theta-burst stimulation.

The primary motor area (M1) has been implicated in visuomotor sequence learning. However, it has been suggested there are multiple neural networks that undertake visuomotor sequence learning. The role of M1 in sequence learning may be specific to learning simple sequences comprising predictable associations between adjacent movements. This study aimed to investigate the role of M1 in learning simple (“first-order conditional”) and more complex (“second-order conditional”) sequences. It was hypothesized that continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) over M1 would result in poorer learning of the simple sequence only. Forty-eight healthy adults received cTBS to either M1 or the parietal lobe or received sham cTBS before immediately completing 2 visuomotor sequence learning tasks. The tasks only differed in relation to the structure (i.e., simple vs. complex) of the sequence. The group who received cTBS over M1 demonstrated significantly poorer learning of the simple sequence in comparison to the more complex sequence. The parietal lobe stimulation and sham stimulation did not affect learning of either sequence. This is the first study to show differential involvement of M1 in visuomotor sequence learning, dependent on sequence structure. The study provides new evidence that sequence learning might be supported by different networks in the brain. Specifically, M1 sequence learning appears to be important for learning simple item-to-item associations but not for more complex sequences. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)