Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 232, Issue 7, pp 2391–2405 | Cite as

Cell directional spread determines accuracy, precision, and length of the neuronal population vector

  • Apostolos P. GeorgopoulosEmail author
Research Article


The neuronal population vector (NPV) for movement direction is the sum of weighted neuronal directional contributions. Based on theoretical considerations, we proposed recently that the sharpness of tuning will impact the directional precision, accuracy, and length of the NPV, such that sharper tuning will yield NPV with higher precision, higher accuracy, and shorter length (Mahan and Georgopoulos in Front Neural Circuits 7:92, 2013). Furthermore, we proposed that controlling the inhibitory drive in a local network could be the mechanism by which the sharpness of directional tuning would be varied, resulting in a continuous specification and control of movement’s directional precision, accuracy, and speed (Mahan and Georgopoulos in Front Neural Circuits 7:92, 2013, Fig. 5). As a first step in testing this idea, here we analyzed data from 899 cells recorded in the motor cortex during performance of a center → out task. There were two major findings. First, directional selectivity varied with cell activity, such that it was higher in cells with lower mean discharge rates. And second, NPVs calculated from subsets of cells with higher directional selectivity (and, correspondingly, lower mean discharge rates) were more accurate (i.e., closer to the movement), precise (i.e., less variable), and shorter (i.e., slower; Schwartz in Science 265:540–542, 1994). These findings confirm our predictions above made from modeling (Mahan and Georgopoulos in Front Neural Circuits 7:92, 2013) and provide a simple mechanism by which desired attributes of the directional motor command can be implemented. We hypothesize that the inhibitory drive in a local network is controlled directly and independently of recurrent collaterals or common excitatory inputs to other cells. This could be achieved by a private excitation/inhibition of key inhibitory interneurons in a way similar to that in operation for Renshaw cells in the spinal cord. The presence of such a private line of inhibitory control remains to be investigated.


Directional tuning Neuronal population vector Cortical inhibition 



This work was supported by the American Legion Brain Sciences Chair, University Minnesota.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Veterans Affairs, Brain Sciences Center (11B)Minneapolis Health Care SystemMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of Minnesota Medical SchoolMinneapolisUSA

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