Apraxia Impairs Intentional Retrieval of Incidentally Acquired Motor Knowledge
Apraxia caused by left hemispheric stroke typically impairs skilled sequential movements. After stroke, apraxic patients need to reacquire motor skills by motor learning. The current study assessed for the first time incidental motor sequence learning in apraxic patients. Forty-eight human subjects (henceforth called “patients”) with left hemispheric stroke affecting the middle cerebral artery territory (18 with apraxia and 30 without apraxia) and 17 age-matched healthy controls were tested on a visuomanual serial reaction time task. Subjects performed four blocks consisting of repetitions of a complex six element sequence containing ambiguous pairwise transitions before a new and unfamiliar sequence was introduced in block 5. Reaction time (RT) disadvantages in this fifth block indicated incidental sequence-specific motor learning. The intentional retrieval of the learned motor knowledge was assessed subsequently with a free recall task. Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping (VLSM) was performed to investigate for the first time the lesion correlates of deficits in learning and retrieving sequential motor knowledge. Despite generally prolonged RTs, apraxic patients showed sequence-specific motor learning as could be observed in nonapraxic patients and healthy controls. However, apraxic patients showed reduced intentional retrieval of the learned sequence. VLSM revealed that impaired intentional retrieval of motor sequence knowledge resulted from dorsal premotor cortex lesions. Apraxic patients showed a dissociation of preserved incidental motor (sequence) learning and deficient intentional retrieval of this incidentally learned motor knowledge. The data suggest that novel approaches for treating apraxia should focus on incidental motor learning, but that automatic rather than intentional retrieval strategies should be enforced.
from the Journal of Neuroscience