The role of primary motor cortex in goal-directed movements: insights from neurophysiological studies on non-human primates

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2003 Dec;13(6):671-7. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2003.10.012.


Neurophysiological studies on non-human primates have provided a large body of information on the response patterns of neurons in primary motor cortex during volitional motor tasks. Rather than finding a single simple pattern of activity in primary motor cortex neurons, these studies illustrate that neural activity in this area reflects many different types of information, including spatial goals, hand motion, joint motion, force output and electromyographic activity. This richness in the response characteristics of neurons makes estimates of any single variable on motor performance from population signals imprecise and prone to errors. It initially seems puzzling that so many different types of information are represented in primary motor cortex. However, such richness in neural responses reflects its important role in converting high-level behavioral goals generated in other cortical regions into complex spatiotemporal patterns to control not only alpha-motoneuron activity but also other features of spinal processing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Goals
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Primates / physiology*