Learning interference occurs when learning something new causes forgetting of an older memory (retrograde interference) or when learning a new task disrupts learning of a second subsequent task (anterograde interference). This phenomenon, described in cognitive, sensory, and motor domains, limits our ability to learn multiple tasks in close succession. It has been suggested that the source of interference is competition of neural resources, although the neuronal mechanisms are unknown. Learning induces long-term potentiation (LTP), which can ultimately limit the ability to induce further LTP, a phenomenon known as occlusion. In humans we quantified the magnitude of occlusion of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation-induced increased excitability after learning a skill task as an index of the amount of LTP-like plasticity used. We found that retention of a newly acquired skill, as reflected by performance in the second day of practice, is proportional to the magnitude of occlusion. Moreover, the degree of behavioral interference was correlated with the magnitude of occlusion. Individuals with larger occlusion after learning the first skill were (1) more resilient to retrograde interference and (2) experienced larger anterograde interference when training a second task, as expressed by decreased performance of the learned skill in the second day of practice. This effect was not observed if sufficient time elapsed between training the two skills and LTP-like occlusion was not present. These findings suggest competition of LTP-like plasticity is a factor that limits the ability to remember multiple tasks trained in close succession.
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