Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2009; 106 (5) doi:10.1073/pnas.0805413106
Affiliation: National Institutes of Health, 20892, MD, United States
Abstract: Motor skills can take weeks to months to acquire and can diminish over time in the absence of continued practice. Thus, strategies that enhance skill acquisition or retention are of great scientific and practical interest. Here we investigated the effect of noninvasive cortical stimulation on the extended time course of learning a novel and challenging motor skill task. A skill measure was chosen to reflect shifts in the task's speed-accuracy tradeoff function (SAF), which prevented us from falsely interpreting variations in position along an unchanged SAF as a change in skill. Subjects practiced over 5 consecutive days while receiving transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the primary motor cortex (M1). Using the skill measure, we assessed the impact of anodal (relative to sham) tDCS on both within-day (online) and between-day (offline) effects and on the rate of forgetting during a 3-month follow-up (long-term retention). There was greater total (online plus offline) skill acquisition with anodal tDCS compared to sham, which was mediated through a selective enhancement of offline effects. Anodal tDCS did not change the rate of forgetting relative to sham across the 3-month follow-up period, and consequently the skill measure remained greater with anodal tDCS at 3 months. This prolonged enhancement may hold promise for the rehabilitation of brain injury. Furthermore, these findings support the existence of a consolidation mechanism, susceptible to anodal tDCS, which contributes to offline effects but not to online effects or long-term retention.
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