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Exp Brain Res. 2011 Apr;210(2):165-72. doi: 10.1007/s00221-011-2610-6. Epub 2011 Mar 19.

Surround inhibition in the motor system.

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Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.


Surround inhibition is a physiological mechanism to focus neuronal activity in the central nervous system. This so-called center-surround organization is well known in sensory systems, where central signals are facilitated and eccentric signals are inhibited in order to sharpen the contrast between them. There is evidence that this mechanism is relevant to skilled motor behavior, and it is deficient, for example, in the affected primary motor cortex of patients with focal hand dystonia (FHD). While it is still not fully elucidated how surround inhibition is generated in healthy subjects, the process is enhanced with handedness and task difficulty indicating that it may be an important mechanism for the performance of individuated finger movements. In FHD, where involuntary overactivation of muscles interferes with precise finger movements, a loss of intracortical inhibition likely contributes to the loss of surround inhibition. Several intracortical inhibitory networks are modulated differently in FHD compared with healthy subjects, and these may contribute to the loss of surround inhibition. Surround inhibition can be observed and assessed in the primary motor cortex. It remains unclear, however, if the effects are created in the cortex or if they are derived from, or supported by, motor signals that come from the basal ganglia.

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