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Elife. 2014 Aug 12;3:e03043. doi: 10.7554/eLife.03043.

Human premotor areas parse sequences into their spatial and temporal features.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom Department of Neuroscience, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom.


Skilled performance is characterized by precise and flexible control of movement sequences in space and time. Recent theories suggest that integrated spatio-temporal trajectories are generated by intrinsic dynamics of motor and premotor networks. This contrasts with behavioural advantages that emerge when a trained spatial or temporal feature of sequences is transferred to a new spatio-temporal combination arguing for independent neural representations of these sequence features. We used a new fMRI pattern classification approach to identify brain regions with independent vs integrated representations. A distinct regional dissociation within motor areas was revealed: whereas only the contralateral primary motor cortex exhibited unique patterns for each spatio-temporal sequence combination, bilateral premotor areas represented spatial and temporal features independently of each other. These findings advocate a unique function of higher motor areas for flexible recombination and efficient encoding of complex motor behaviours.


fMRI; motor control; premotor cortex; primary motor cortex; skill representation; timing

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