, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 491-507

Functional organization of inferior area 6 in the macaque monkey

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Summary

The functional properties of neurons located in the rostral part of inferior area 6 were studied in awake, partially restrained macaque monkeys. The most interesting property of these neurons was that their firing correlated with specific goal-related motor acts rather than with single movements made by the animal. Using the motor acts as the classification criterion we subdivided the neurons into six classes, four related to distal motor acts and two related to proximal motor acts. The distal classes are: “Grasping-with-the-hand-and-the-mouth neurons”, “Grasping-with-the-hand neurons”, “Holding neurons” and “Tearing neurons”. The proximal classes are: “Reaching neurons” and “Bringing-to-the-mouth-or-to-the-body neurons”. The vast majority of the cells belonged to the distal classes. A particularly interesting aspect of distal class neurons was that the discharge of many of them depended on the way in which the hand was shaped during the motor act. Three main groups of neurons were distinguished: “Precision grip neurons”, “Finger prehension neurons”, “Whole hand prehension neurons”. Almost the totality of neurons fired during motor acts performed with either hand. About 50% of the recorded neurons responded to somatosensory stimuli and about 20% to visual stimuli. Visual neurons were more difficult to trigger than the corresponding neurons located in the caudal part of inferior area 6 (area F4). They required motivationally meaningful stimuli and for some of them the size of the stimulus was also critical. In the case of distal neurons there was a relationship between the type of prehension coded by the cells and the size of the stimulus effective in triggering the neurons. It is proposed that the different classes of neurons form a vocabulary of motor acts and that this vocabulary can be accessed by somatosensory and visual stimuli.