Discharge of primate magnocellular red nucleus neurons during reaching to grasp in different spatial locations
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Reaching to grasp is of fundamental importance to primate motor behavior. One descending motor pathway that contributes to the control of this behavior is the rubrospinal tract. An important source of origin of the rubrospinal tract is the magnocellular red nucleus (RNm). Forelimb RNm neurons discharge vigorously during reach-to-grasp movements. RNm discharge is important for hand use, as coordinated whole-limb movements without hand use are not associated with strong discharge. Because RNm is functionally linked to muscles of the entire forelimb, RNm discharge may also contribute to use of the proximal limb that accompanies hand use. If RNm contributes to proximal limb use, we predict discharge to differ for reaches that differ in proximal limb involvement but require the same grasp. We tested this prediction by measuring discharge of individual RNm neurons while monkeys reached to grasp objects in four spatial locations in front of them. The animals reached from the waist to locations to the left, right, above, and below the shoulder of the "reaching" limb. RNm neurons of our sample were activated strongly during reach-to-grasp, and discharge of a third of the neurons tested depended on the spatial location of the object grasped. Discharge of RNm neurons and EMG activity of many of the distal and proximal forelimb muscles we tested were larger for reaching to grasp in the upper and/or right than lower and left target locations. Based on comparisons of each individual neuron's discharge patterns during reaches with and without preshaping the hand, we conclude that target location-dependent modulations in discharge rate of the majority of RNm neurons whose discharge differed for reaching to grasp in the four target locations contributed to aspects of hand preshaping that covaried with reach direction.
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