Many studies highlight that human movements are highly successful yet display a surprising amount of variability from trial to trial. There is a consistent pattern of variability throughout movement: initial motor errors are corrected by the end of movement, suggesting the presence of a powerful online control process. Here, we analyze the trial-by-trial variability of goal-directed reaching in nonhuman primates (five male Rhesus monkeys) and demonstrate that they display a similar pattern of variability during reaching, including a strong negative correlation between initial and late hand motion. We then demonstrate that trial-to-trial neural variability of primary motor cortex (M1) is positively correlated with variability of future hand motion (τ = ∼160 ms) during reaching. Furthermore, the variability of M1 activity is also correlated with variability of past hand motion (τ = ∼90 ms), but in the opposite polarity (i.e., negative correlation). Partial correlation analysis demonstrated that M1 activity independently reflects the variability of both past and future hand motions. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that M1 activity is involved in online feedback control of motor actions.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Previous studies highlight that primary motor cortex (M1) rapidly responds to either visual or mechanical disturbances, suggesting its involvement in online feedback control. However, these studies required external disturbances to the motor system and it is not clear whether a similar feedback process addresses internal noise/errors generated by the motor system itself. Here, we introduce a novel analysis that evaluates how variations in the activity of M1 neurons covary with variations in hand motion on a trial-to-trial basis. The analyses demonstrate that M1 activity is correlated with hand motion in both the near future and the recent past, but with opposite polarity. These results suggest that M1 is involved in online feedback motor control to address errors/noise within the motor system.
Keywords: feedback processing; motor control; motor variability; nonhuman primates; primary motor cortex; reaching.
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