The neural correlates of learned motor acuity

Lior Shmuelof, Juemin Yang, Brian Caffo, Pietro Mazzoni, John W. Krakauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


We recently defined a component of motor skill learning as "motor acuity, " quantified as a shift in the speed-accuracy trade-off function for a task. These shifts are primarily driven by reductions in movement variability. To determine the neural correlates of improvement in motor acuity, we devised a motor task compatible with magnetic resonance brain imaging that required subjects to make finely controlled wrist movements under visual guidance. Subjects were imaged on day 1 and day 5 while they performed this task and were trained outside the scanner on intervening days 2, 3, and 4. The potential confound of performance changes between days 1 and 5 was avoided by constraining movement time to a fixed duration. After training, subjects showed a marked increase in success rate and a reduction in trial-by-trial variability for the trained task but not for an untrained control task, without changes in mean trajectory. The decrease in variability for the trained task was associated with increased activation in contralateral primary motor and premotor cortical areas and in ipsilateral cerebellum. A global nonlocalizing multivariate analysis confirmed that learning was associated with increased overall brain activation. We suggest that motor acuity is acquired through increases in the number of neurons recruited in contralateral motor cortical areas and in ipsilateral cerebellum, which could reflect increased signal-to-noise ratio in motor output and improved state estimation for feedback corrections, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)971-980
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2014


  • Cerebellum
  • FMRI
  • Motor cortex
  • Motor skill
  • Pointing
  • Reaching
  • Speed-accuracy trade-off
  • Wrist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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