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Neuron. 2010 Nov 18;68(4):776-88. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.11.002.

Human posterior parietal cortex flexibly determines reference frames for reaching based on sensory context.

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Department of Psychology, Brain Imaging Center, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


Current models of sensorimotor transformations emphasize the dominant role of gaze-centered representations for reach planning in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). Here we exploit fMRI repetition suppression to test whether the sensory modality of a target determines the reference frame used to define the motor goal in the PPC and premotor cortex. We show that when targets are defined visually, the anterior precuneus selectively encodes the motor goal in gaze-centered coordinates, whereas the parieto-occipital junction, Brodman Area 5 (BA 5), and PMd use a mixed gaze- and body-centered representation. In contrast, when targets are defined by unseen proprioceptive cues, activity in these areas switches to represent the motor goal predominantly in body-centered coordinates. These results support computational models arguing for flexibility in reference frames for action according to sensory context. Critically, they provide neuroanatomical evidence that flexibility is achieved by exploiting a multiplicity of reference frames that can be expressed within individual areas.

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