Reactivation-induced motor skill learning

Jasmine Herszage, Haggai Sharon, Nitzan Censor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning motor skills commonly requires repeated execution to achieve gains in performance. Motivated by memory reactivation frameworks predominantly originating from fear-conditioning studies in rodents, which have extended to humans, we asked the following: Could motor skill learning be achieved by brief memory reactivations? To address this question, we had participants encode a motor sequence task in an initial test session, followed by brief task reactivations of only 30 s each, conducted on separate days. Learning was evaluated in a final retest session. The results showed that these brief reactivations induced significant motor skill learning gains. Nevertheless, the efficacy of reactivations was not consistent but determined by the number of consecutive correct sequences tapped during memory reactivations. Highly continuous reactivations resulted in higher learning gains, similar to those induced by full extensive practice, while lower continuity reactivations resulted in minimal learning gains. These results were replicated in a new independent sample of subjects, suggesting that the quality of memory reactivation, reflected by its continuity, regulates the magnitude of learning gains. In addition, the change in noninvasive brain stimulation measurements of corticospinal excitability evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation over primary motor cortex between pre- and postlearning correlated with retest and transfer performance. These results demonstrate a unique form of rapid motor skill learning and may have far-reaching implications, for example, in accelerating motor rehabilitation following neurological injuries.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2102242118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - 29 Apr 2021


  • Memory reactivation
  • Motor learning
  • Reconsolidation
  • Skill learning
  • TMS


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