Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Representation of sequential structure can occur with respect to the order of perceptual events or the order in which actions are linked. Neural correlates of sequence retrieval associated with the order of motor responses were identified in a variant of the serial reaction time task in which training occurred with a spatially incompatible mapping between stimuli and finger responses. After transfer to a spatially compatible version of the task, performance enhancements indicative of learning were only present in subjects required to make finger movements in the same order used during training. In contrast, a second group of subjects performed the compatible task using an identical sequence of stimuli (and different order of finger movements) as in training. They demonstrated no performance benefit, indicating that learning was response based. Analysis was restricted to subjects demonstrating low recall of the sequence structure to rule out effects of explicit awareness. The interaction of group (motor vs. perceptual transfer) with sequence retrieval (sequencing vs. rest) revealed significantly greater activation in the bilateral supplementary motor area, cingulate motor area, ventral premotor cortex, left caudate, and inferior parietal lobule for subjects in the motor group (illustrating successful sequence retrieval at the response level). Retrieval of sequential responses occurs within mesial motor areas and related motor planning areas.