Probing for hemispheric specialization for motor skill learning: A transcranial direct current stimulation study

Heidi M. Schambra, Mitsunari Abe, David A. Luckenbaugh, Janine Reis, John W. Krakauer, Leonardo G. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Convergent findings point to a leftsided specialization for the representation of learned actions in righthanded humans, but it is unknown whether analogous hemispheric specialization exists for motor skill learning. In the present study, we explored this question by comparing the effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over either left or right motor cortex (M1) on motor skill learning in either hand, using a tDCS montage to better isolate stimulation to one hemisphere. Results were compared with those previously found with a montage more commonly used in the field. Six groups trained for three sessions on a visually guided sequential pinch force modulation task with their right or left hand and received right M1, left M1, or sham tDCS. A linear mixed-model analysis for motor skill showed a significant main effect for stimulation group (left M1, right M1, sham) but not for hand (right, left) or their interaction. Left M1 tDCS induced significantly greater skill learning than sham when hand data were combined, a result consistent not only with the hypothesized left hemisphere specialization for motor skill learning but also with possible increased left M1 responsiveness to tDCS. The unihemispheric montage effect size was onehalf that of the more common montage, and subsequent power analysis indicated that 75 subjects per group would be needed to detect differences seen with only 12 subjects with the customary bihemispheric montage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)652-661
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Brain stimulation
  • Motor cortex
  • Neuromodulation
  • Neurorehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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