Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 293–302 | Cite as

Static firing rates of premotor and primary motor cortical neurons associated with torque and joint position

  • W. Werner
  • E. Bauswein
  • C. Fromm


Single cell activity was studied in the postarcuate premotor area (PMA) and primary motor cortex (MI) of two monkeys performing a load-bearing task with the contralateral hand. Steady-state discharge rates were examined in relation to positional maintenance of the wrist which was held in one of three given positions against graded torques directed towards flexion or extension. Significant and monotonic relationships between tonic firing rate and static torque were found in 41% of 477 MI cells and in only 26% of 470 units studied in PMA. However, for specific cell groups in the PMA the proportion of load-related neurons reached that of the MI samples; this was true for pyramidal tract neurons (PTNs) and for ‘non-PTNs’ if recorded in their vicinity. The most interesting difference pertains to the range of load over which cells in both areas modulated activity. MI neurons showed steepest change of firing rates over a limited range of small torques around zero external load; the population average displayed a sigmoidal relationship. Proportionally more PMA neurons increased their activity over the entire range of torques examined or showed the highest increase with stronger torques; the population average best fitted a quadratic function. The mean firing ratetorque slope of the PMA population was significantly smaller than that of MI. Many cells in either area were related to both torque and joint position and displayed correlates of length-tension properties of muscle. Change of position sensitivity with torque was found to parallel the rate-torque characteristics in individual neurons. Mean position sensitivity of PMA neurons increased with increasing torques in the ‘preferred’ direction. In contrast, greatest position sensitivity of the MI population occurred over the range of low torques, which means a clear quantitative dissociation from the muscular activities. The results suggest differential roles of MI and PMA in the control of ‘fine’ versus ‘gross’ muscular forces. Undoubtedly, some PMA cell elements (possibly certain output neurons) are involved in aspects of postural control of EMG adjustment to load and joint position.

Key words

Premotor area Motor cortex Torque relation Single unit recording Monkey 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Werner
    • 1
  • E. Bauswein
    • 1
  • C. Fromm
    • 1
  1. 1.Abteilung Neurobiologie, Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische ChemieGöttingenFederal Republic of Germany

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