Hand use predicts the structure of representations in sensorimotor cortex

Nat Neurosci. 2015 Jul;18(7):1034-40. doi: 10.1038/nn.4038. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Fine finger movements are controlled by the population activity of neurons in the hand area of primary motor cortex. Experiments using microstimulation and single-neuron electrophysiology suggest that this area represents coordinated multi-joint, rather than single-finger movements. However, the principle by which these representations are organized remains unclear. We analyzed activity patterns during individuated finger movements using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Although the spatial layout of finger-specific activity patterns was variable across participants, the relative similarity between any pair of activity patterns was well preserved. This invariant organization was better explained by the correlation structure of everyday hand movements than by correlated muscle activity. This also generalized to an experiment using complex multi-finger movements. Finally, the organizational structure correlated with patterns of involuntary co-contracted finger movements for high-force presses. Together, our results suggest that hand use shapes the relative arrangement of finger-specific activity patterns in sensory-motor cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult