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Cereb Cortex. 2013 Mar;23(3):520-30. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr391. Epub 2012 Mar 13.

The "what" and "when" of self-initiated movements.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Research Center Jülich, D-52425 Jülich, Germany.


The ability to generate intentional behavior is undeniably at the core of what makes us acting subjects. Intentional actions consist of at least 2 components (Brass M, Haggard P. 2008. The what, when, whether model of intentional action. Neuroscientist. 14:319-325.): choosing an appropriate behavior (what) and selecting the moment of execution (when). The aim of this study was to identify differing and overlapping neural networks underlying the "what" and "when" of intentional movement initiation. While scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging, 35 healthy subjects performed self-initiated and reactive, that is, internally and externally triggered movements of the right or left index finger in 3 experimental conditions: 1) "Free Choice" (free timing: when/choice of hand: what), 2) "Timed Choice" (external timing/choice of hand: what), and 3) "No Choice" (external timing/cued hand). The what-component specifically employed the presupplementary motor area (SMA) and dorsal premotor cortex bilaterally. The when-network consisted of superior SMA together with insula and Area 44 bilaterally as well as bilateral anterior putamen, globus pallidus, and left cerebellum subcortically. These 2 components recruited different networks, pointing to a partially distinct neuronal realization of the relating functions. Finally, the more intentional components were involved, the higher was activity in the anterior midcingulate cortex, which highlighted its role in intentional initiation of behavior.

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