Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 99-119

Voluntary finger movement in man: Cerebral potentials and theory

  • Lüder DeeckeAffiliated withAbteilung Neurologie und Sektion Neurophysiologie, Universität Ulm
  • , Berta GrözingerAffiliated withAbteilung Neurologie und Sektion Neurophysiologie, Universität Ulm
  • , H. H. KornhuberAffiliated withAbteilung Neurologie und Sektion Neurophysiologie, Universität Ulm

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Three different brain potentials preceeding voluntary rapid finger flexion can be recorded from the skull surface by time reversed averaging. The early cortical activity preceding unilateral movement is bilateral and widespread (Bereitschaftspotential, BP). The same applies for the second potential (pre-motion positivity, PMP). Only the third potential (motor potential, MP) is unilateral and restricted to the contralateral motor cortex. In a total of 87 experiments with 39 subjects, the BP started on the average 750 ms (SD 360, SE 38.5) prior to rapid finger flexion. Its largest amplitude was found mid-parietally and averaged-5.3 μV (SD 2.32, SE 0.4). Such amplitudes were found with averages of 800 and more movements per experiment. However, at the beginning of an experiment the BP is larger. Preceding finger movement, the BP was found bilaterally over the parietal and precentral cortex and over the midline. Over the frontal cortex, either no potential or positivity was recorded. In normal subjects, the BP always begins bilaterally and symmetrically. At parietal leads, it remains bilaterally-symmetrical. A slight contralateral preponderance begins about 400 ms prior to movement only over motor cortex, which becomes statistically significant at 150 ms. When comparing the parietal BP amplitude with the precentral amplitude on the ipsilateral side, where no superposition of the MP occurs, there is more negativity parietally than precentrally, although the parietal skull is about 11% thicker than the precentral. The BP is a negative shift of the cortical DC potential probably representing a preparatory process in the dendritic network of those cortical areas that are involved in the intended movement.

The PMP is the next potential occurring 90–80 ms (\(\bar x = {\text{87}}\), SD 34.2, SE 2.95) prior to the first action potential in the contracting muscle (EMG). It was found in 85% of our subjects. The PMP has at its maximum, mid-parietally, a mean amplitude of +1.7 μV (SD 1.6, SE 0.28). Like the BP, the PMP is bilateral and widespread in parietal and precentral leads of both sides and in the midline with a maximum at the anterior parietal region, despite the parietal skull being thicker than precentral. The short and the relatively constant onset time suggests that the PMP might reflect cortical activity (motor command) related to initiation of the tactually guided rapid finger movement under study.

The MP starting 60–50 ms (\(\bar x = {\text{54}}\), SD 19.4, SE 3.1) prior to first activity in the agonist EMG is the last potential to occur and is the only unilateral potential: its localisation is limited to the hand area of the motor cortex contralateral to the moving finger. In bipolar recordings, contralateral versus ipsilateral precentral or contralateral precentral versus vertex, it appears as a sharp additional negativity. This additional negativity averaged-1.3 μV (SD 0.64, SE 0.08). The MP reflects the motor cortical activity immediately preceding the movement.

After movement onset, a complex potential is recorded, that is also seen with passive finger movement, largely representing a somatosensory (proprioceptive) evoked response. The possible meaning of the movement-related potentials is discussed in relation to a theory of central motor function.