The integrated nature of motor cortical function

Neuroscientist. 2004 Jun;10(3):207-20. doi: 10.1177/107385403262109.


Recent studies on the functional organization and operational principles of motor cortical function, taken together, strongly support the notion that the motor cortex controls the muscle activities subserving movements in an integrated manner. For example, during pointing the shoulder, elbow and wrist muscles appear to be controlled as a coupled functional system, rather than individually and separately. The pattern of intrinsic connections between motor cortical points is likely part of the explanation of this operational principle. So too is the manner in which muscles and muscle synergies are represented in the motor cortex. However, selection of movement-related muscle synergies is likely a dynamic process involving the functional linking of a variety of motor cortical points, rather than the selection of fixed patterns embedded in the motor cortical circuitry. One of the mechanisms that may be involved in the functional linking of motor cortical points is disinhibition. Thus, motor cortical points are recruited into action by selected excitation as well as by selected release from inhibition. The incoordination of limb movements in patients after a stroke may be understood, at least in part, as a disruption of the connections between motor cortical points and of the neural mechanisms involved in their functional linking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*