The purpose of this investigation was to characterize the discharge of neurons in the rostral area 4 motor cortex (MI) during performance of a precision grip task. Three monkeys were trained to grasp an object between the thumb and index finger and to lift and hold it stationary for 2-2.5 s within a narrow position window. The grip and load forces and the vertical displacement of the object were recorded on each trial. On some trials a downward force-pulse perturbation generating a shear force and slip on the skin was applied to the object after 1.5 s of static holding. In total, 72 neurons were recorded near the rostral limit of the hand area of the motor cortex, located close to the premotor areas. Of these, 30 neurons were examined for receptive fields, and all 30 were found to receive proprioceptive inputs from finger muscles. Intracortical microstimulation applied to 38 recording sites evoked brief hand movements, most frequently involving the thumb and index finger with an average threshold of 12 microA. Slightly more than one-half of the neurons (38/72) demonstrated significant increases in firing rate that on average began 284 +/- 186 ms before grip onset. Of 54 neurons tested with predictable force-pulse perturbations, 29 (53.7%) responded with a reflexlike reaction at a mean latency of 54.2 +/- 16.8 ms. This latency was 16 ms longer than the mean latency of reflexlike activity evoked in neurons with proprioceptive receptive fields in the more caudal motor cortex. No neurons exhibited anticipatory activity that preceded the perturbation even when the perturbations were delivered randomly and signaled by a warning stimulus. The results indicate the presence of a strong proprioceptive input to the rostral motor cortex, but raise the possibility that the afferent pathway or intracortical processing may be different because of the slightly longer latency.