Neural Coding of Finger and Wrist Movements

Journal of Computational Neuroscience - 1999-05-01Georgopoulos AP, Pellizzer G, Poliakov AV, Schieber MH10.1023/A:1008810007672
Previous work (Schieber and Hibbard, 1993) has shown that single motor cortical neurons do not discharge specifically for a particular flexion-extension finger movement but instead are active with movements of different fingers. In addition, neuronal populations active with movements of different fingers overlap extensively in their spatial locations in the motor cortex. These data suggested that control of any finger movement utilizes a distributed population of neurons. In this study we applied the neuronal population vector analysis (Georgopoulos et al., 1983) to these same data to determine (1) whether single cells are tuned in an abstract, three-dimensional (3D) instructed finger and wrist movement space with hand-like geometry and (2) whether the neuronal population encodes specific finger movements. We found that the activity of 132/176 (75%) motor cortical neurons related to finger movements was indeed tuned in this space. Moreover, the population vector computed in this space predicted well the instructed finger movement. Thus, although single neurons may be related to several disparate finger movements, and neurons related to different finger movements are intermingled throughout the hand area of the motor cortex, the neuronal population activity does specify particular finger movements.