Area PE (Brodmann's area 5), located in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), is involved in the control of arm movements. Many monkey studies showed PE's involvement in reach directions, while only a few revealed signals coding the depth of reaches. Notably, all these studies focused on the lateral part of PE, leaving its medial part functionally largely unexplored. We here recorded neuronal activity in the medial part of PE in three male Macaca fascicularis while they performed coordinated eye and arm movements in darkness towards targets located at different directions and depths. We used the same task as in our previous studies of more caudal PPC sectors (areas V6A and PEc), allowing a direct comparison between these three PPC areas. We found that, in medial PE, reach direction and depth were encoded mainly by distinct populations of neurons. Directional signals were more prominent before movement onset, whereas depth processing occurred mainly during and after movement execution. Visual and somatosensory mapping of medial PE revealed a lack of visual responses yet strong somatosensory sensitivity, with a representation of both upper and lower limbs, distinct from the somatotopy reported in lateral PE. This study shows that PE is strongly involved in motor processing of depth and direction information during reaching. It highlights a trend in medial PPC, going from the joint coding of depth and direction signals caudally, in area V6A, to a largely segregated processing of the two signals rostrally, in area PE.
Keywords: Area 5; Arm movements; Reaching in distance; Somatosensory responses; Superior parietal lobule.