Neurophysiological mechanisms involved in transfer of procedural knowledge

Monica A Perez, Steven P. Wise, Daniel T. Willingham, Leonardo G. Cohen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Learning to perform a motor task with one hand results in performance improvements in the other hand, a process called intermanual transfer. To gain information on its neural mechanisms, we studied this phenomenon using the serial reaction-time task (SRTT). Sixteen, right-handed volunteers trained a 12-item sequence of key presses repeated without the subjects' knowledge. Blocks with no repeating sequence, called random blocks, were interspersed with sequence-training blocks. Response times improved in random and training blocks in both hands. The former result reflects nonspecific improvement in performance, and the latter represents a sequence-specific improvement. To evaluate changes in the primary motor cortex (M1), we tested resting motor thresholds (RMT), recruitments curves to transcranial magnetic stimulation (RC), short intracortical inhibition (SICI), and interhemispheric inhibition (IHI) from the dominant left (learning) to the nondominant right (transfer) hemisphere, before and after SRTT training. Training resulted in (1) increased RC and decreased SICI but no changes in RMT in the learning hemisphere, (2) decreased SICI and no changes in RC or RMT in the transfer hemisphere, and (3) decreased IHI. The amount in IHI after training correlated with nonspecific performance improvements in the transfer hand but not with sequence-specific performance improvements. Our results indicate that modulation of interhemispheric inhibition between the M1 areas may, as a result of the learning that has occurred in one hemisphere after practice with one hand, contribute to faster, more skilled performance of the opposite hand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1053
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 31 2007


  • Interhemispheric inhibition
  • Intermanual transfer
  • Intracortical inhibition
  • Motor cortex
  • Motor learning
  • Transcallosal pathways

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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