Hand Knob Area of Premotor Cortex Represents the Whole Body in a Compositional Way

Cell. 2020 Apr 16;181(2):396-409.e26. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.02.043. Epub 2020 Mar 26.


Decades after the motor homunculus was first proposed, it is still unknown how different body parts are intermixed and interrelated in human motor cortical areas at single-neuron resolution. Using multi-unit recordings, we studied how face, head, arm, and leg movements are represented in the hand knob area of premotor cortex (precentral gyrus) in people with tetraplegia. Contrary to traditional expectations, we found strong representation of all movements and a partially "compositional" neural code that linked together all four limbs. The code consisted of (1) a limb-coding component representing the limb to be moved and (2) a movement-coding component where analogous movements from each limb (e.g., hand grasp and toe curl) were represented similarly. Compositional coding might facilitate skill transfer across limbs, and it provides a useful framework for thinking about how the motor system constructs movement. Finally, we leveraged these results to create a whole-body intracortical brain-computer interface that spreads targets across all limbs.

Keywords: brain-computer interface; hand knob; microelectrode array; motor cortex; neural coding; skill transfer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Motor Cortex / metabolism
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology