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J Neurosci. 2013 Jan 30;33(5):1991-2008. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0541-12.2013.

Where one hand meets the other: limb-specific and action-dependent movement plans decoded from preparatory signals in single human frontoparietal brain areas.

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Brain and Mind Institute, Natural Sciences Centre and Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.


Planning object-directed hand actions requires successful integration of the movement goal with the acting limb. Exactly where and how this sensorimotor integration occurs in the brain has been studied extensively with neurophysiological recordings in nonhuman primates, yet to date, because of limitations of non-invasive methodologies, the ability to examine the same types of planning-related signals in humans has been challenging. Here we show, using a multivoxel pattern analysis of functional MRI (fMRI) data, that the preparatory activity patterns in several frontoparietal brain regions can be used to predict both the limb used and hand action performed in an upcoming movement. Participants performed an event-related delayed movement task whereby they planned and executed grasp or reach actions with either their left or right hand toward a single target object. We found that, although the majority of frontoparietal areas represented hand actions (grasping vs reaching) for the contralateral limb, several areas additionally coded hand actions for the ipsilateral limb. Notable among these were subregions within the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), dorsal premotor cortex (PMd), ventral premotor cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, presupplementary motor area, and motor cortex, a region more traditionally implicated in contralateral movement generation. Additional analyses suggest that hand actions are represented independently of the intended limb in PPC and PMd. In addition to providing a unique mapping of limb-specific and action-dependent intention-related signals across the human cortical motor system, these findings uncover a much stronger representation of the ipsilateral limb than expected from previous fMRI findings.

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