Neurons in red nucleus and primary motor cortex exhibit similar responses to mechanical perturbations applied to the upper-limb during posture

Front Integr Neurosci. 2015 Apr 24;9:29. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2015.00029. eCollection 2015.


Primary motor cortex (M1) and red nucleus (RN) are brain regions involved in limb motor control. Both structures are highly interconnected with the cerebellum and project directly to the spinal cord, although the contribution of RN is smaller than M1. It remains uncertain whether RN and M1 serve similar or distinct roles during posture and movement. Many neurons in M1 respond rapidly to mechanical disturbances of the limb, but it remains unclear whether RN neurons also respond to such limb perturbations. We have compared discharges of single neurons in RN (n = 49) and M1 (n = 109) of one monkey during a postural perturbation task. Neural responses to whole-limb perturbations were examined by transiently applying (300 ms) flexor or extensor torques to the shoulder and/or elbow while the monkeys attempted to maintain a static hand posture. Relative to baseline discharges before perturbation onset, perturbations evoked rapid (<100 ms) changes of neural discharges in many RN (28 of 49, 57%) and M1 (43 of 109, 39%) neurons. In addition to exhibiting a greater proportion of perturbation-related neurons, RN neurons also tended to exhibit higher peak discharge frequencies in response to perturbations than M1 neurons. Importantly, neurons in both structures exhibited similar response latencies and tuning properties (preferred torque directions and tuning widths) in joint-torque space. Proximal arm muscles also displayed similar tuning properties in joint-torque space. These results suggest that RN is more sensitive than M1 to mechanical perturbations applied during postural control but both structures may play a similar role in feedback control of posture.

Keywords: optimal feedback control; perturbation; primary motor cortex; red nucleus; upper-limb muscle.