The Motor Cortex Has Independent Representations for Ipsilateral and Contralateral Arm Movements But Correlated Representations for Grasping

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Jun 4;bhaa120. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa120. Online ahead of print.


Motor commands for the arm and hand generally arise from the contralateral motor cortex, where most of the relevant corticospinal tract originates. However, the ipsilateral motor cortex shows activity related to arm movement despite the lack of direct connections. The extent to which the activity related to ipsilateral movement is independent from that related to contralateral movement is unclear based on conflicting conclusions in prior work. Here we investigate bilateral arm and hand movement tasks completed by two human subjects with intracortical microelectrode arrays implanted in the left hand and arm area of the motor cortex. Neural activity was recorded while they attempted to perform arm and hand movements in a virtual environment. This enabled us to quantify the strength and independence of motor cortical activity related to continuous movements of each arm. We also investigated the subjects' ability to control both arms through a brain-computer interface. Through a number of experiments, we found that ipsilateral arm movement was represented independently of, but more weakly than, contralateral arm movement. However, the representation of grasping was correlated between the two hands. This difference between hand and arm representation was unexpected and poses new questions about the different ways the motor cortex controls the hands and arms.

Keywords: bilateral motor control; brain–computer interface; human intracortical electrophysiology.