Role of motor cortex in coordinating multi-joint movements: is it time for a new paradigm?

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000 Nov;78(11):923-33.


Reaching movements to spatial targets require motor patterns at the shoulder to be coordinated carefully with those at the elbow to smoothly move the hand through space. While the motor cortex is involved in this volitional task, considerable debate remains about how this cortical region participates in planning and controlling movement. This article reviews two opposing interpretations of motor cortical function during multi-joint movements. On the one hand, studies performed predominantly on single-joint movement generally support the notion that motor cortical activity is intimately involved in generating motor patterns at a given joint. In contrast, studies on reaching demonstrate correlations between motor cortical activity and features of movement related to the hand, suggesting that the motor cortex may be involved in more global features of the task. Although this latter paradigm involves a multi-joint motor task in which neural activity is correlated with features of movement related to the hand, this neural activity is also correlated to other movement variables. Therefore it is difficult to assess if and how the motor cortex contributes to the coordination of motor patterns at different joints. In particular, present paradigms cannot assess whether motor cortical activity contributes to the control of one joint or multiple joints during whole-arm tasks. The final point discussed in this article is the development of a new experimental device (KINARM) that can both monitor and manipulate the mechanics of the shoulder and elbow independently during multi-joint motor tasks. It is hoped that this new device will provide a new approach for examining how the motor cortex is involved in motor coordination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Joints / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement