Effector-Invariant Movement Encoding in the Human Motor System Academic Article uri icon


  • Ipsilateral motor areas of cerebral cortex are active during arm movements and even reliably predict movement direction. Is coding similar during ipsilateral and contralateral movements? If so, is it in extrinsic (world-centered) or intrinsic (joint-configuration) coordinates? We addressed these questions by examining the similarity of multi-voxel fMRI patterns in visuomotor cortical regions during unilateral reaching movements with both arms. The results of three complementary analyses revealed that fMRI response patterns were similar across right and left arm movements to identical targets (extrinsic coordinates) in visual cortices, and across movements with equivalent joint-angles (intrinsic coordinates) in motor cortices. We interpret this as evidence for the existence of distributed neural populations in multiple motor system areas that encode ipsilateral and contralateral movements in a similar manner: according to their intrinsic/joint coordinates.Significance Statement: Cortical motor control exhibits clear lateralization: each hemisphere controls the motor output of the contralateral body. Nevertheless, neural populations in ipsilateral areas across the visuomotor hierarchy are active during unilateral movements. We show that fMRI response patterns in the motor cortices are similar for both arms if the movement direction is mirror-reversed across the midline. This suggests that in both ipsilateral and contralateral motor cortices, neural populations have effector-invariant coding of movements in intrinsic coordinates. This not only affects our understanding of motor control, it may serve in the development of brain machine interfaces that also utilize ipsilateral neural activity.

publication date

  • September 13, 2017