Characterization of neurons in the primate medial intraparietal area reveals a joint representation of intended reach direction and amplitude

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 9;12(8):e0182519. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182519. eCollection 2017.


To support accurate memory-guided reaching, the brain must represent both the direction and amplitude of reaches in a movement plan. Several cortical areas have been shown to represent the direction of a planned reaching movement, but the neuronal representation of reach amplitude is still unclear, especially in sensory-motor integration areas. To investigate this, we recorded from neurons in the medial intraparietal area (MIP) of monkeys performing a variable amplitude memory reach task. In one monkey, we additionally recorded from the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) for direct cross-area comparisons. In both areas, we found modest but significant proportions of neurons with movement-planning activity sensitive to reach amplitude. However, reach amplitude was under-represented relative to direction in the neuronal population, with approximately one third as many selective neurons. We observed an interaction between neuronal selectivity for amplitude and direction; neurons in both areas exhibited significant modulation of neuronal activity by reach amplitude in some but not all directions. Consistent with an encoding of reach goals as a position in visual space, the response patterns of MIP/PMd neurons were best predicted by 2D Gaussian position encoding model, in contrast to a number of alternative direction and amplitude tuning models. Taken together, these results suggest that amplitude and direction jointly modulate activity in MIP, as in PMd, to form representations of intended reach position.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arm / physiology
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canada Research Chair Program (CFC), and the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies (FQRNT) to SM.