Comparison of neural responses in primary motor cortex to transient and continuous loads during posture

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Jan;101(1):150-63. doi: 10.1152/jn.90230.2008. Epub 2008 Nov 12.


The present study examined whether neurons in primary motor cortex (M1) exhibit similar responses to transient and continuous loads applied during posture. Rapid responses to whole-limb perturbations were examined by transiently applying (300 ms) flexor and extensor torques to the shoulder and/or elbow during postural maintenance. Over half of M1 neurons responded to these transient loads within 80 ms and many responded within 20-40 ms. These rapid responses exhibited a broad continuum of modulation patterns across load directions. At one extreme, neurons exhibited reciprocal increases and decreases in activity for opposing loads. At the other extreme, neurons (particularly those with onset times of 20-40 ms) displayed relatively uniform increases in activity for all loads. Activity of proximal arm muscles displayed a narrower distribution of modulation patterns characterized by broadly tuned excitation combined with little or no reciprocal inhibition. Both neurons and muscles showed a directional preference for whole-limb flexor and whole-limb extensor torques (flexor at one joint and extensor at the other). Most neurons with rapid responses also showed steady-state responses to continuous loads, although these responses generally displayed reciprocal increases and decreases in activity for opposing loads. Importantly, the preferred-torque directions were quantitatively similar across tasks. For example, a neuron with a maximal rapid response to a transient elbow flexor torque tended to exhibit a maximal steady-state response to a continuous elbow flexor torque. Activity of proximal arm muscles also showed this preservation of directional tuning. These results illustrate that M1 neurons respond rapidly to transient multijoint loads and their patterns of activity share some, but not all, features related to continuous multijoint loads applied during posture.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arm / innervation
  • Arm / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Elbow / innervation
  • Elbow / physiology
  • Hand / innervation
  • Hand / physiology
  • Joints / physiology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / cytology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Shoulder / innervation
  • Shoulder / physiology