Handedness and asymmetry of hand representation in human motor cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1998 Apr;79(4):2149-54. doi: 10.1152/jn.1998.79.4.2149.


The cortical representation of five simple hand and finger movements in the human motor cortex was determined in left- and right-handed people with whole-head magnetoencephalography. Different movements were found to be represented by spatially segregated dipolar sources in primary motor cortex. The spatial arrangement of neuronal sources for digit and wrist movements was nonsomatotopic and varied greatly between subjects. As an estimator of hand area size in primary motor cortex, we determined the smallest cuboid volume enclosing the five dipole sources within the left and right hemisphere of each subject. Interhemispheric comparison revealed a significant increase of this volume in primary motor cortex opposite to the preferred hand. This asymmetry was due to a greater spatial segregation of neuronal dipole generators subserving different hand and finger actions in the dominant hemisphere. Mean Euclidean distances between dipole sources for different movements were 10.7 +/- 3.5 mm in the dominant and 9.4 +/- 3.5 mm in the nondominant hemisphere (mean +/- SD; P = 0. 01, two-tailed t-test). The expansion of hand representation in primary motor cortex could not simply be attributed to a greater number of pyramidal cells devoted to each particular movement as inferred from current source amplitudes. The degree of hemispheric asymmetry of hand area size in the primary motor cortex was correlated highly with the asymmetry of hand performance in a standardized handedness test (r = -0.76, P < 0.01). These results demonstrate for the first time a biological correlate of handedness in human motor cortex. The expansion of hand motor cortex in the dominant hemisphere may provide extra space for the cortical encoding of a greater motor skill repertoire of the preferred hand.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*