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Exp Brain Res. 2004 Oct;158(3):278-88. Epub 2004 Jul 29.

Target-, limb-, and context-dependent neural activity in the cingulate and supplementary motor areas of the monkey.

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Department of Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine, WMRB Suite 6000, GA 30322, Atlanta, USA.


Very little is known about the role of the cingulate motor area (CMA) in visually guided reaching compared to other cortical motor areas. To investigate the hierarchical role of the caudal CMA (CMAc) during reaching we recorded the activity of neurons in CMAc in comparison to the supplementary motor area proper (SMA) while a monkey performed an instructed delay task that required it to position a cursor over visual targets on a computer screen using two-dimensional (2D) joystick movements. The direction of the monkey's arm movement was dissociated from the direction of the visual target by periodically reversing the relationship between the direction of movement of the joystick and that of the cursor. Neurons that responded maximally with a particular limb movement direction regardless of target location were classified as limb-dependent, whereas neurons that responded maximally to a particular target direction regardless of the direction of limb movement were classified as target-dependent. Neurons whose activity was directional in one of the two visuomotor mapping conditions and non-directional or inactive in the other were categorized as context-dependent. Limb-dependent activity was observed more frequently than target-dependent activity in both CMAc and SMA proper during both the delay period (preparatory activity; CMAc, 17%; SMA, 31%) and during movement execution (CMAc, 49%, SMA, 48%). A modest percentage of neurons with preparatory activity were target-dependent in both CMAc (11%) and SMA proper (8%) and a similar percentage of neurons in both areas demonstrated target-dependent, movement activity (CMAc, 8%; SMA, 10%). The surprising finding was that a very large percentage of neurons in both areas displayed context-dependent activity either during the preparatory (CMAc, 72%; SMA, 61%) or movement (CMAc, 43%, SMA 42%) epochs of the task. These results show that neural activity in both CMAc and SMA can directly represent movement direction in either limb-centered or target-centered coordinates. The presence of target-dependent activity in CMAc, as well as SMA, suggests that both are involved in the transformation of visual target information into appropriate motor commands. Target-dependent activity has been found in the putamen, SMA, CMAc, dorsal and ventral premotor cortex, as well as primary motor cortex. This indicates that the visuomotor transformations required for visually guided reaching are carried out by a distributed network of interconnected motor areas. The large proportion of neurons with context-dependent activity suggests, however, that while both CMAc and SMA may play a role in the visuomotor transformation of target information into movement parameters, their activity is not solely coding parameters of movement, since their involvement in this process is highly condition-dependent.

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