Neural synchrony within the motor system: what have we learned so far?

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Sep 4;6:252. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00252. eCollection 2012.


Synchronization of neural activity is considered essential for information processing in the nervous system. Both local and inter-regional synchronization are omnipresent in different frequency regimes and relate to a variety of behavioral and cognitive functions. Over the years, many studies have sought to elucidate the question how alpha/mu, beta, and gamma synchronization contribute to motor control. Here, we review these studies with the purpose to delineate what they have added to our understanding of the neural control of movement. We highlight important findings regarding oscillations in primary motor cortex, synchronization between cortex and spinal cord, synchronization between cortical regions, as well as abnormal synchronization patterns in a selection of motor dysfunctions. The interpretation of synchronization patterns benefits from combining results of invasive and non-invasive recordings, different data analysis tools, and modeling work. Importantly, although synchronization is deemed to play a vital role, it is not the only mechanism for neural communication. Spike timing and rate coding act together during motor control and should therefore both be accounted for when interpreting movement-related activity.

Keywords: corticospinal coherence; information processing; motor control; motor cortex; movement; movement disorders; neural synchronization; oscillations.