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J Physiol. 2006 Jul 15;574(Pt 2):367-86. Epub 2006 Mar 23.

Discrimination between active and passive head movements by macaque ventral and medial intraparietal cortex neurons.

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Laboratoire de Physiologie de la Perception et de l'Action, CNRS/Collège de France, 11 place Marcelin Berthelot, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France.


An important prerequisite for effective motor action is the discrimination between active and passive body movements. Passive movements often require immediate reflexes, whereas active movements may demand suppression of the latter. The vestibular system maintains correct body and head posture in space through reflexes. Since vestibular inputs have been reported to be largely suppressed in the vestibular nuclei during active head movements, we investigated whether head movement-related signals in the primate parietal cortex, a brain region involved in self-motion perception, could support both reflex functions and self-movement behaviour. We employed a paradigm that made available direct comparison of neuronal discharge under active and passive movement conditions. In this study, we demonstrate that a population of intraparietal (VIP (ventral) and MIP (medial)) cortex neurons change their preferred directions during horizontal head rotations depending on whether animals have performed active movements, or if they were moved passively. In other neurons no such change occurred. A combination of these signals would provide differential information about the active or passive nature of an ongoing movement. Moreover, some neurons' responses clearly anticipated the upcoming active head movement, providing a possible basis for vestibular-related reflex suppression. Intraparietal vestibular neurons thus distinguish between active and passive head movements, and their responses differ substantially from those reported in brainstem vestibular neurons, regarding strength, timing, and direction selectivity. We suggest that the contextual firing characteristics of these neurons have far-reaching implications for the suppression of reflex movements during active movement, and for the representation of space during self-movement.

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