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Neuron. 2011 Aug 11;71(3):555-64. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.05.047.

Single-trial neural correlates of arm movement preparation.

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Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


The process by which neural circuitry in the brain plans and executes movements is not well understood. Until recently, most available data were limited either to single-neuron electrophysiological recordings or to measures of aggregate field or metabolism. Neither approach reveals how individual neurons' activities are coordinated within the population, and thus inferences about how the neural circuit forms a motor plan for an upcoming movement have been indirect. Here we build on recent advances in the measurement and description of population activity to frame and test an "initial condition hypothesis" of arm movement preparation and initiation. This hypothesis leads to a model in which the timing of movements may be predicted on each trial using neurons' moment-by-moment firing rates and rates of change of those rates. Using simultaneous microelectrode array recordings from premotor cortex of monkeys performing delayed-reach movements, we compare such single-trial predictions to those of other theories. We show that our model can explain approximately 4-fold more arm-movement reaction-time variance than the best alternative method. Thus, the initial condition hypothesis elucidates a view of the relationship between single-trial preparatory neural population dynamics and single-trial behavior.

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