Organization of action sequences and the role of the pre-SMA

Steve W Kennerley, K Sakai, MFS Rushworth 2004.


To understand the contribution of the human presupplementary motor area (pre-SMA) in sequential motor behavior, we performed a series of finger key-press experiments. Experiment 1 revealed that each subject had a spontaneous tendency to organize or “chunk” a long sequence into shorter components. We hypothesized that the pre-SMA might have a special role in initiating each chunk but not at other points during the sequence. Experiment 2 therefore examined the effect of 0.5-s, 10-Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) directed over the pre-SMA. As hypothesized, performance was disrupted when rTMS was delivered over the pre-SMA at the beginning of the second chunk but not when it was delivered in the middle of a chunk. Contrary to the hypothesis, TMS did not disrupt sequence initiation. Experiments 3 and 4 examined whether the very first movement of a sequence could be disrupted under any circumstances. Pre-SMA TMS did disrupt the initiation of sequences but only when subjects had to switch between sequences and when the first movement of each sequence was not covertly instructed by a learned visuomotor association. In conjunction, the results suggest that for overlearned sequences the pre-SMA is primarily concerned with the initiation of a sequence or sequence chunk and the role of the pre-SMA in sequence initiation is only discerned when subjects must retrieve the sequence from memory as a superordinate set of movements without the aid of a visuomotor association. Control experiments revealed such effects were not present when rTMS was applied over the left dorsal premotor cortex.