Modular organization of directionally tuned cells in the motor cortex: Is there a short-range order?

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America - 2003-10-14Amirikian B, Georgopoulos AP10.1073/pnas.2037719100
We investigated the presence of short-range order (>600 μm) in the directional properties of neurons in the motor cortex of the monkey. For that purpose, we developed a quantitative method for the detection of functional cortical modules and used it to examine such potential modules formed by directionally tuned cells. In the functional domain, we labeled each cell by its preferred direction (PD) vector in 3D movement space; in the spatial domain, we used the position of the tip of the recording microelectrode as the cell's coordinate. The images produced by this method represented two orthogonal dimensions in the cortex; one was parallel ("horizontal") and the other perpendicular ("vertical") to the cortical layers. The distribution of directionally tuned cells in these dimensions was nonuniform and highly structured. Specifically, cells with similar PDs tended to segregate into vertically oriented minicolumns 50-100 μm wide and at least 500 μm high. Such minicolumns aggregated across the horizontal dimension in a secondary structure of higher order. In this structure, minicolumns with similar PDs were ≈200 μm apart and were interleaved with minicolumns representing nearly orthogonal PDs; in addition, nonoverlapping columns representing nearly opposite PDs were ≈350 μm apart.