Basic neurophysiological research with monkeys has shown how neurons in the motor cortex have firing rates tuned to movement direction. This original finding would have been difficult to uncover without the use of a behaving primate paradigm in which subjects grasped a handle and moved purposefully to targets in different directions. Subsequent research, again using behaving primate models, extended these findings to continuous drawing and to arm and hand movements encompassing action across multiple joints. This research also led to robust extraction algorithms in which information from neuronal populations is used to decode movement intent. The ability to decode intended movement provided the foundation for neural prosthetics in which brain-controlled interfaces are used by paralyzed human subjects to control computer cursors or high-performance motorized prosthetic arms and hands. This translation of neurophysiological laboratory findings to therapy is a clear example of why using nonhuman primates for basic research is valuable for advancing treatment of neurological disorders. Recent research emphasizes the distribution of intention signaling through neuronal populations and shows how many movement parameters are encoded simultaneously. In addition to direction and velocity, the arm's impedance has now been found to be encoded as well. The ability to decode motion and force from neural populations will make it possible to extend neural prosthetic paradigms to precise interaction with objects, enabling paralyzed individuals to perform many tasks of daily living.
Keywords: arm movement; impedance; kinematics; motor control; motor cortex.