Concurrent TMS to the primary motor cortex augments slow motor learning

Shalini Narayana, Wei Zhang, William Rogers, Casey Strickland, Crystal Franklin, Jack L. Lancaster, Peter T. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has shown promise as a treatment tool, with one FDA approved use. While TMS alone is able to up- (or down-) regulate a targeted neural system, we argue that TMS applied as an adjuvant is more effective for repetitive physical, behavioral and cognitive therapies, that is, therapies which are designed to alter the network properties of neural systems through Hebbian learning. We tested this hypothesis in the context of a slow motor learning paradigm. Healthy right-handed individuals were assigned to receive 5Hz TMS (TMS group) or sham TMS (sham group) to the right primary motor cortex (M1) as they performed daily motor practice of a digit sequence task with their non-dominant hand for 4weeks. Resting cerebral blood flow (CBF) was measured by H215O PET at baseline and after 4weeks of practice. Sequence performance was measured daily as the number of correct sequences performed, and modeled using a hyperbolic function. Sequence performance increased significantly at 4weeks relative to baseline in both groups. The TMS group had a significant additional improvement in performance, specifically, in the rate of skill acquisition. In both groups, an improvement in sequence timing and transfer of skills to non-trained motor domains was also found. Compared to the sham group, the TMS group demonstrated increases in resting CBF specifically in regions known to mediate skill learning namely, the M1, cingulate cortex, putamen, hippocampus, and cerebellum. These results indicate that TMS applied concomitantly augments behavioral effects of motor practice, with corresponding neural plasticity in motor sequence learning network. These findings are the first demonstration of the behavioral and neural enhancing effects of TMS on slow motor practice and have direct application in neurorehabilitation where TMS could be applied in conjunction with physical therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-984
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Jan 15 2014


  • Digit sequence practice
  • Hebbian learning
  • Hyperbolic function
  • Motor learning
  • Motor learning network
  • Motor system
  • Primary motor cortex
  • Skill transfer
  • TMS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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