The initiation of voluntary movements by the supplementary motor area

Arch Psychiatr Nervenkr (1970). 1982;231(5):423-41. doi: 10.1007/BF00342722.


The hypothesis is formulated that in all voluntary movements the initial neuronal event is in the supplementary motor areas (SMA) of both cerebral hemispheres. Experimental support is provided by three lines of evidence. 1. In voluntary movements many neurones of the SMA are activated probably up to 200 ms before the pyramidal tract discharge. 2. Investigations of regional cerebral blood flow by the radioactive Xenon technique reveal that there is neuronal activity in the SMA of both sides during a continual series of voluntary movements, and that this even occurs when the movement is thought of, but not executed. 3. With voluntary movement there is initiation of a slow negative potential (the readiness potential, RP) at up to 0.8 s before the movement. The RP is maximum over the vertex, i.e. above the SMA, and is large there even in bilateral Parkinsonism when it is negligible over the motor cortex. An account is given of the SMA, particularly its connectivities to the basal ganglia and the cerebellum that are active in the preprogramming of a movement. The concept of motor programs is described and related to the action of the SMA. It is proposed that each mental intention acts on the SMA in a specific manner and that the SMA has an 'inventory' and the 'addresses' of stored subroutines of all learnt motor programs. Thus by its neuronal connectivities the SMA is able to bring about the desired movement. There is a discussion of the manner in which the mental act of intention calls forth neural actions in the SMA that eventually lead to the intended movement. Explanation is given on the basis of the dualist-interactionist hypothesis of mind-brain liaison. The challenge is to the physicalists to account for the observed phenomena in voluntary movement.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology