Many human studies have demonstrated that rapid motor responses (i.e., muscle-stretch reflexes) to mechanical perturbations can be modified by a participant's intended response. Here, we used a novel experimental paradigm to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie such goal-dependent modulation. Two monkeys positioned their hand in a central area against a constant load and responded to mechanical perturbations by quickly placing their hand into visually defined spatial targets. The perturbation was chosen to excite a particular proximal arm muscle or isolated neuron in primary motor cortex and two targets were placed so that the hand was pushed away from one target (OUT target) and toward the other (IN target). We chose these targets because they produced behavioral responses analogous to the classical verbal instructions used in human studies. A third centrally located target was used to examine responses with a constant goal. Arm muscles and neurons robustly responded to the perturbation and showed clear goal-dependent responses ∼35 and 70 ms after perturbation onset, respectively. Most M1 neurons and all muscles displayed larger perturbation-related responses for the OUT target than the IN target. However, a substantial number of M1 neurons showed more complex patterns of target-dependent modulation not seen in muscles, including greater activity for the IN target than the OUT target, and changes in target preference over time. Together, our results reveal complex goal-dependent modulation of fast feedback responses in M1 that are present early enough to account for goal-dependent stretch responses in arm muscles.
Keywords: feedback; instruction; primary motor cortex; reflex; single-unit recording; task-goal.