This study investigated the effects of inactivating small regions of the primary somatosensory (SI) and motor (MI) cortex on the control of finger forces in a precision grip. A monkey was trained to grasp and lift a computer-controlled object between the thumb and index finger and to hold it stationary within a narrow position window for 2 s. The grip force applied perpendicular to the object surface, the lifting or load force applied tangentially in the vertical direction, and the vertical displacement were sampled at 100 Hz. Also, the ability of the monkey to extract small pieces of food from narrow wells of a Klüver board was analyzed from video-tape. Preliminary single-unit recordings and microstimulation studies were used to map the extent of the thumb and index-finger representation within SI and MI. Two local injections of 1 microl each (5 microg/microl) of the GABA(A)-agonist muscimol were used to inactivate the thumb and index region of either the pre- or post-central gyrus. The precision grip was differently affected by muscimol injection into either SI or MI. MI injections produced a deficit in the monkey's ability to perform independent finger movements and a general weakness in the finger muscles. Whole-hand grasping movements were inappropriately performed in an attempt to grasp either the instrumented object or morsels of food. Although the effect seemed strongest on intrinsic hand muscles, a clear deficit in digit extension was also noted. As a result, the monkey was unable to lift and maintain the object within the position window for the required 2 s, and, over time, the grip force decreased progressively until the animal stopped working. Following SI injections, the most obvious effect was a loss of finger coordination. In grasping, the placement of the fingers on the object was often abnormal and the monkey seemed unable to control the application of prehensile and lifting forces. However, the detailed analysis of forces revealed that a substantial increase in the grip force occurred well before any deficit in the coordination of finger movements was noted. This observation suggests that cutaneous feedback to SI is essential for the fine control of grip forces.