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J Neurosci. 2004 May 5;24(18):4453-9.

Behavioral context and coherent oscillations in the supplementary motor area.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Movements with similar physical characteristics can occur in various behavioral contexts, as when they are embedded in different sequences or when the expected outcomes of movements vary. Similarly, neurons in various sensory and motor structures in the brain commonly display modulations in their activity according to contextual factors, such as expected reward. Although these contextual signals must be combined with incoming sensory inputs to generate appropriate behaviors according to the animal's motivational state, the mechanisms by which these two signals are integrated remain poorly understood. The present study examined the effects of contextual factors on the magnitude of coherent oscillations in the activity of individual neurons recorded in the supplementary motor area (SMA) of monkeys during a serial reaction time task. In this task, the animal produced a predictable sequence of hand movements repeatedly according to visual instructions. The performance of the animal was influenced by the location of the rewarded target as well as the ordinal position of the movement. In contrast, the level of coherent oscillations in the activity of SMA neurons was affected only by the rewarded target location but not by the ordinal position of the movement sequence. In addition, changes in coherent oscillations were not accounted for by systematic changes in the mean firing rates. These results are consistent with the proposal that synchronous spikes might be used to control the flow of information and suggest that coherent oscillations in the SMA might encode contextual variables, such as expected reward.

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