Dissociation between hand motion and population vectors from neural activity in motor cortex

Nature. 2001 Sep 13;413(6852):161-5. doi: 10.1038/35093102.


The population vector hypothesis was introduced almost twenty years ago to illustrate that a population vector constructed from neural activity in primary motor cortex (MI) of non-human primates could predict the direction of hand movement during reaching. Alternative explanations for this population signal have been suggested but could not be tested experimentally owing to movement complexity in the standard reaching model. We re-examined this issue by recording the activity of neurons in contralateral MI of monkeys while they made reaching movements with their right arms oriented in the horizontal plane-where the mechanics of limb motion are measurable and anisotropic. Here we found systematic biases between the population vector and the direction of hand movement. These errors were attributed to a non-uniform distribution of preferred directions of neurons and the non-uniformity covaried with peak joint power at the shoulder and elbow. These observations contradict the population vector hypothesis and show that non-human primates are capable of generating reaching movements to spatial targets even though population vectors based on MI activity do not point in the direction of hand motion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology