Neural competitive queuing of ordinal structure underlies skilled sequential action

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The fluent retrieval and production of movement sequences is essential for a variety of daily activities such as speech, tool-use, musical and athletic performance, but the neural mechanisms underlying sequence planning remain elusive. Here, participants learned sequences of finger presses with different timings and different finger orders, and reproduced them in a magneto encephalography (MEG) scanner. We classified the MEG patterns immediately preceding each press in the sequence, and examined their dynamics over the production of the whole sequence. Our results confirm a role for the ‘competitive queuing’ of upcoming action representations in the production of learned motor sequences, extending previous computational and non-human primate recording studies to non-invasive measures in humans. In addition, we show that competitive queuing does not simply reflect specific motor actions, but representations of higher-level sequential order that generalise across different motor sequences. Finally, we show that the quality of competitive queuing predicts participants’ production accuracy, and originates from parahippocampal and cerebellar sources. These results suggest that the brain learns and produces multiple behavioural sequences by flexibly combining representations of specific actions with more abstract, parallel representations of sequential structure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalbioRxiv
DOIs
StateE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2018
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