Specific deficit in implicit motor sequence learning following spinal cord injury

Ayala Bloch, Dror Tamir, Eli Vakil, Gabi Zeilig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Physical and psychosocial rehabilitation following spinal cord injury (SCI) leans heavily on learning and practicing new skills. However, despite research relating motor sequence learning to spinal cord activity and clinical observations of impeded skill-learning after SCI, implicit procedural learning following spinal cord damage has not been examined. Objective: To test the hypothesis that spinal cord injury (SCI) in the absence of concomitant brain injury is associated with a specific implicit motor sequence learning deficit that cannot be explained by depression or impairments in other cognitive measures. Methods: Ten participants with SCI in T1-T11, unharmed upper limb motor and sensory functioning, and no concomitant brain injury were compared to ten matched control participants on measures derived from the serial reaction time (SRT) task, which was used to assess implicit motor sequence learning. Explicit generation of the SRT sequence, depression, and additional measures of learning, memory, and intelligence were included to explore the source and specificity of potential learning deficits. Results: There was no between-group difference in baseline reaction time, indicating that potential differences between the learning curves of the two groups could not be attributed to an overall reduction in response speed in the SCI group. Unlike controls, the SCI group showed no decline in reaction time over the first six blocks of the SRT task and no advantage for the initially presented sequence over the novel interference sequence. Meanwhile, no group differences were found in explicit learning, depression, or any additional cognitive measures. Conclusions: The dissociation between impaired implicit learning and intact declarative memory represents novel empirical evidence of a specific implicit procedural learning deficit following SCI, with broad implications for rehabilitation and adjustment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0158396
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


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