Cortical mechanisms subserving reaching

Motor Areas of the Cerebral Cortex - 1987-10-01Georgopoulos AP
The generation and control of reaching in space is a function of several structures, cortical and subcortical. This paper summarizes some principles of cortical mechanisms subserving this function, as revealed by recording the impulse activity of neurons in motor cortex and area 5 of the posterior parietal cortex in behaving monkeys. Large populations of neurons in these cortical areas are engaged in reaching. This engagement is early in time; for example, cell activity in the motor cortex begins to change 60-80 ms after target onset, and slightly later in area 5. The time course of cell recruitment in the active population is very similar for reaching movements of equal amplitude directed to different targets. In contrast, the intensity of cell discharge in both motor and parietal cortex is clearly modulated with respect to the direction of the movement in space. An unambiguous distributed code for the direction of reaching exists in neuronal populations in the cortical areas studied. The outcome of this population code can be visualized as a vector in neural space that points in the direction of the upcoming movement.