Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 221, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Specialization of reach function in human posterior parietal cortex

  • Michael VesiaEmail author
  • J. Douglas Crawford


Posterior parietal cortex (PPC) plays an important role in the planning and control of goal-directed action. Single-unit studies in monkeys have identified reach-specific areas in the PPC, but the degree of effector and computational specificity for reach in the corresponding human regions is still under debate. Here, we review converging evidence spanning functional neuroimaging, parietal patient and transcranial magnetic stimulation studies in humans that suggests a functional topography for reach within human PPC. We contrast reach to saccade and grasp regions to distinguish functional specificity and also to understand how these different goal-directed actions might be coordinated at the cortical level. First, we present the current evidence for reach specificity in distinct modules in PPC, namely superior parietal occipital cortex, midposterior intraparietal cortex and angular gyrus, compared to saccade and grasp. Second, we review the evidence for hemispheric lateralization (both for hand and visual hemifield) in these reach representations. Third, we review evidence for computational reach specificity in these regions and finally propose a functional framework for these human PPC reach modules that includes (1) a distinction between the encoding of reach goals in posterior–medial PPC as opposed to reach movement vectors in more anterior–lateral PPC regions, and (2) their integration within a broader cortical framework for reach, grasp and eye–hand coordination. These findings represent both a confirmation and extension of findings that were previously reported for the monkey.


Reaching Pointing Grasping Saccades Posterior parietal cortex Visuomotor control Eye–hand coordination TMS fMRI Optic ataxia 



This work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), National Science and Engineering Research Council and Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to J.D. Crawford. J.D. Crawford is supported by a CIHR Canada Research Chair, and M. Vesia is supported by Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Centre for Stroke Recovery and Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation Fellowships. We thank L. Pisella and W.R. Staines for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke RecoveryTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  3. 3.Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Program, Departments of Psychology, Biology, and Kinesiology and Health SciencesCentre for Vision Research, Canadian Action and Perception Network, York UniversityTorontoCanada

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