Reduced muscle selectivity during individuated finger movements in humans after damage to the motor cortex or corticospinal tract

J Neurophysiol. 2004 Apr;91(4):1722-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.00805.2003. Epub 2003 Dec 10.


We investigated how damage to the motor cortex or corticospinal tract affects the selective activation of finger muscles in humans. We hypothesized that damage relatively restricted to the motor cortex or corticospinal tract would result in unselective muscle activations during an individuated finger movement task. People with pure motor hemiparesis attributed to ischemic cerebrovascular accident were tested. Pure motor hemiparetic and control subjects were studied making flexion/extension and then abduction/adduction finger movements. During the abduction/adduction movements, we recorded muscle activity from 3 intrinsic finger muscles: the abductor pollicis brevis, the first dorsal interosseus, and the abductor digit quinti. Each of these muscles acts as an agonist for only one of the abduction/adduction movements and might therefore be expected to be active in a highly selective manner. Motor cortex or corticospinal tract damage in people with pure motor hemiparesis reduced the selectivity of finger muscle activation during individuated abduction/adduction finger movements, resulting in reduced independence of these movements. Abduction/adduction movements showed a nonsignificant trend toward being less independent than flexion/extension movements in the affected hands of hemiparetic subjects. These changes in the selectivity of muscle activation and the consequent decrease in individuation of movement were correlated with decreased hand function. Our findings imply that, in humans, spared cerebral motor areas and descending pathways that remain might activate finger muscles, but cannot fully compensate for the highly selective control provided by the primary motor cortex and the crossed corticospinal system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / methods
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / radiation effects
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiopathology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / injuries
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Paresis / physiopathology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology*