Grasping neurons of monkey parietal and premotor cortices encode action goals at distinct levels of abstraction during complex action sequences

J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 13;31(15):5876-86. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5186-10.2011.


Natural actions are formed by distinct motor acts, each of which is endowed with its own motor purpose (i.e., grasping), chained together to attain the final action goal. Previous studies have shown that grasping neurons of parietal area PFG and premotor area F5 can code the goal of simple actions in which grasping is embedded. While during simple actions the target is usually visible, directly cueing the final goal, during complex action sequences is often concealed and has to be kept in mind to shape action unfolding. The aim of this study was to assess the relative contribution of sensory-cued or memory-driven information about the final goal to PFG and F5 grasping neurons activity. To this purpose, we trained two monkeys to perform complex action sequences, each including two successive grasping acts, aimed at specific final goals (eating or placing). We recorded 122 PFG and 89 F5 neurons. Forty-seven PFG and 26 F5 neurons displayed action goal selectivity only during the late phase of the action, when sensory information cueing the action goal became available. Reward contingency did not affect neuronal selectivity. Notably, 17 PFG neurons reflected the final goal from the early phase of action unfolding, when only memory-driven information was available. Crucially, when monkeys were prevented from obtaining such information before action onset, neurons lost their early selectivity. Our findings suggest that external sensory cues and individual's motor intention integrate at different level of abstraction within a large anatomo-functional network, encompassing parietal and premotor cortices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Intention
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Memory
  • Motor Cortex / cytology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / cytology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology