Procedural learning is impaired in patients with prefrontal lesions

Marian Gömez Beldarrain*, Jordan Grafman, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Juan C. Garcia-Monco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Objectives: To 1) determine the effect of prefrontal cortex lesions on procedural learning (PL), measured by a serial reaction-time task (SRTT); 2) confirm whether visuomotor PL is lateralized to one hemisphere; and 3) clarify the relation between visuomotor sequence learning and verbal sequence learning, working memory, and executive functions. Background: Previous cognitive neuroscience research has implicated the prefrontal cortex in visuomotor PL but there is a lack of studies examining patients with prefrontal cortex lesions. Methods: We studied 22 patients with strictly unilateral prefrontal cortex lesions (traumatic, ischemic, hemorrhagic, or tumors) and 52 cognitively intact controls matched for age, sex, and educational level. We administered to subjects long (10-item sequence) and short (4-item sequence) versions of the SRTT. With the long version, each hand was evaluated separately. Learning was indicated by the shortening of response times (RT) and decrease in errors across the sequential blocks and, most importantly, the rebound increase in RTs and errors when comparing the last sequence block with the next random block. Frontal lobe functions and verbal sequence learning were also assessed. Results: Patients with unilateral prefrontal cortex lesions show PL impairment that involves both hands, although more errors were observed when the hand contralateral to the lesion was performing. Only those patients whose lesions were >2 cm in diameter were impaired. Neuropsychologic evaluation indicated impaired verbal sequence learning and executive function deficits. Patients with poorer working memory and verbal sequence learning were also more impaired in visuomotor sequence learning. Conclusions: The prefrontal cortex has a role in PL and is part of the neural circuit that mediates this type of learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1853-1860
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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