Motor cortex retains and reorients neural dynamics during motor imagery

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Jan 19:2023.01.17.524394. doi: 10.1101/2023.01.17.524394.


The most prominent role of motor cortex is generating patterns of neural activity that lead to movement, but it is also active when we simply imagine movements in the absence of actual motor output. Despite decades of behavioral and imaging studies, it is unknown how the specific activity patterns and temporal dynamics within motor cortex during covert motor imagery relate to those during motor execution. Here we recorded intracortical activity from the motor cortex of two people with residual wrist function following incomplete spinal cord injury as they performed both actual and imagined isometric wrist extensions. We found that we could decompose the population-level activity into orthogonal subspaces such that one set of components was similarly active during both action and imagery, and others were only active during a single task typeâ€"action or imagery. Although they inhabited orthogonal neural dimensions, the action-unique and imagery-unique subspaces contained a strikingly similar set of dynamical features. Our results suggest that during motor imagery, motor cortex maintains the same overall population dynamics as during execution by recreating the missing components related to motor output and/or feedback within a unique imagery-only subspace.

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  • Preprint