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J Neurosci. 2015 Oct 21;35(42):14160-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0596-15.2015.

Decoding Internally and Externally Driven Movement Plans.

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Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, 38100 Mattarello, Italy.
Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, 38100 Mattarello, Italy, Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento, 38068 Rovereto, Italy, and Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London, TW20 0EX Egham, Surrey, United Kingdom


During movement planning, brain activity within parietofrontal networks encodes information about upcoming actions that can be driven either externally (e.g., by a sensory cue) or internally (i.e., by a choice/decision). Here we used multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) of fMRI data to distinguish between areas that represent (1) abstract movement plans that generalize across the way in which these were driven, (2) internally driven movement plans, or (3) externally driven movement plans. In a delayed-movement paradigm, human volunteers were asked to plan and execute three types of nonvisually guided right-handed reaching movements toward a central target object: using a precision grip, a power grip, or touching the object without hand preshaping. On separate blocks of trials, movements were either instructed via color cues (Instructed condition), or chosen by the participant (Free-Choice condition). Using ROI-based and whole-brain searchlight-based MVPA, we found abstract representations of planned movements that generalize across the way these movements are selected (internally vs externally driven) in parietal cortex, dorsal premotor cortex, and primary motor cortex contralateral to the acting hand. In addition, we revealed representations specific for internally driven movement plans in contralateral ventral premotor cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, supramarginal gyrus, and in ipsilateral posterior parietotemporal regions, suggesting that these regions are recruited during movement selection. Finally, we observed representations of externally driven movement plans in bilateral supplementary motor cortex and a similar trend in presupplementary motor cortex, suggesting a role in stimulus-response mapping.


The way the human brain prepares the body for action constitutes an essential part of our ability to interact with our environment. Previous studies demonstrated that patterns of neuronal activity encode upcoming movements. Here we used multivariate pattern analysis of human fMRI data to distinguish between brain regions containing movement plans for instructed (externally driven) movements, areas involved in movement selection (internally driven), and areas containing abstract movement plans that are invariant to the way these were generated (i.e., that generalize across externally and internally driven movement plans). Our findings extend our understanding of the neural basis of movement planning and have the potential to contribute to the development of brain-controlled neural prosthetic devices.


MVPA; decoding; fMRI; free choice; movement planning; movement selection

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