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Brain. 2002 Feb;125(Pt 2):225-37.

Optic ataxia as a result of the breakdown of the global tuning fields of parietal neurones.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Fisiologia Umana e Farmacologia, Universit√† di Roma 'La Sapienza', Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Rome, Italy.


Optic ataxia is characterized by an impaired visual control of the direction of arm reaching to a visual target, accompanied by defective hand orientation and grip formation. In humans, optic ataxia is associated with lesions of the superior parietal lobule (SPL), which also affect visually guided saccades and other forms of eye-hand coordination. In the last 10 years, anatomical and physiological studies of the SPL have shed new light on the role of parietal cortex in the control of combined eye-hand movements to visual targets, and on the underlying distributed network which links parietal to frontal cortex. A main emerging functional feature of SPL neurones seems to be their capacity to combine, in a spatially congruent fashion, different directional eye- and hand-related information, that any coding scheme so far proposed, considers essential for the composition of motor commands for reaching. This integration occurs within the global tuning field of parietal neurones, is context-dependent and involves eye and hand information that shares the same directional properties. Depending on task demands, this integration of signals can result in the representation of different reference frames for coordinated eye-hand movements. The dynamic operations occurring within the global tuning fields might depend, at least in part, on the reciprocal sets of association connections linking the SPL and the premotor areas of the frontal lobe. From this picture, the SPL emerges as both a main source of visual input to the frontal cortex and a key structure for visuomotor integration based on re-entrant signalling and, therefore, as a crucial node in the visual control of movement. It is hypothesized that in parietal patients, the directional errors that characterize reaching are a consequence of the breakdown of the combination of directional eye and hand information within the global tuning fields of parietal neurones. In these patients, the spatial match among information about target location, eye and hand position, and movement direction would be prevented, so as to impair the composition of visually guided eye-hand movements. This breakdown could be dependent, at least in part, on the failure of a re-entrant frontoparietal signalling, an obvious consequence of the degeneration of the cortico-cortical systems linking parietal and frontal cortex. Cortico-cortical connections are, in fact, essential for shaping the dynamic properties of cortical neurones.

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