I will introduce a new motor skill learning paradigm that trains stereotyped complex motor sequences in rodents. Targeted lesions show that motor cortex is essential for learning these skills, but not for executing them, thus dissociating motor cortex's role in motor learning and control. Neural recordings from motor cortex-recipient striatum (dorsolateral striatum, DLS) reveal that DLS neurons encode the learned skills in a sparse, reliable, and premotor manner, indicative of a causal role in skill execution. Consistent with this, we show that lesions to DLS interfere both with motor skill learning and execution, while selective ablation of motor cortical inputs to the striatum abolish learning, but not execution of learned sequences. Taken together, these results suggest that motor cortex guides plasticity in striatum during skill learning, allowing subcortical motor circuits to acquire and autonomously execute motor skills.
Dr. Bence Olveczky is a professor in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His lab is interested in how motor skills are learned and generated by the brain. They study this in two different model systems - songbird and rodent.