Learning to control movements in different dynamic environments is marked by proactive interference; learning a first skill interferes with the subsequent learning of a second one. The neural basis of this effect is poorly understood. We tested the idea that proactive interference results from persisting neural representations of previously learned skills in the primary motor cortex (M1). We used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) of M1 to disrupt retention of a recently learned motor skill. If interference results from the retention of this skill then its disruption should be associated with reduced interference. Subjects reached to targets while interacting with a robotic arm that applied force fields to the limb. Fifteen minutes of 1-Hz rTMS to M1 impaired the retention of a first force field, and more importantly, reduced proactive interference when subjects learned a second one. Our findings suggest that retention and interference are linked at the level of M1.

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Author notes

* Present address: Brain Imaging Group, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada H4H 1R3.