A quantitative meta-analysis and review of motor learning in the human brain

Robert M. Hardwick, Claudia Rottschy, R. Chris Miall, Simon B. Eickhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

317 Citations (Scopus)
276 Downloads (Pure)


Neuroimaging studies have improved our understanding of which brain structures are involved in motor learning. Despite this, questions remain regarding the areas that contribute consistently across paradigms with different task demands. For instance, sensorimotor tasks focus on learning novel movement kinematics and dynamics, while serial response time task (SRTT) variants focus on sequence learning. These differing task demands are likely to elicit quantifiably different patterns of neural activity on top of a potentially consistent core network. The current study identified consistent activations across 70 motor learning experiments using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis. A global analysis of all tasks revealed a bilateral cortical–subcortical network consistently underlying motor learning across tasks. Converging activations were revealed in the dorsal premotor cortex, supplementary motor cortex, primary motor cortex, primary somatosensory cortex, superior parietal lobule, thalamus, putamen and cerebellum. These activations were broadly consistent across task specific analyses that separated sensorimotor tasks and SRTT variants. Contrast analysis indicated that activity in the basal ganglia and cerebellum was significantly stronger for sensorimotor tasks, while activity in cortical structures and the thalamus was significantly stronger for SRTT variants. Additional conjunction analyses then indicated that the left dorsal premotor cortex was activated across all analyses considered, even when controlling for potential motor confounds. The highly consistent activation of the left dorsal premotor cortex suggests it is a critical node in the motor learning network.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-297
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2013


  • Activation likelihood estimation
  • Dorsal premotor cortex
  • Serial response time task
  • Sensorimotor learning
  • Sequence learning


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