American Physiological Society
Journal of Neurophysiology
A prevailing theory in the cortical control of limb movement posits that premotor cortex initiates a high-level motor plan that is transformed by the primary motor cortex (MI) into a low-level motor command to be executed. This theory implies that the premotor cortex is shielded from the motor periphery and therefore its activity should not represent the low-level features of movement. Contrary to this theory, we show that both dorsal (PMd) and ventral premotor (PMv) cortices exhibit population-level tuning properties that reflect the biomechanical properties of the periphery similar to those observed in M1. We recorded single-unit activity from M1, PMd, and PMv and characterized their tuning properties while six rhesus macaques performed a reaching task in the horizontal plane. Each area exhibited a bimodal distribution of preferred directions during execution consistent with the known biomechanical anisotropies of the muscles and limb segments. Moreover, these distributions varied in orientation or shape from planning to execution. A network model shows that such population dynamics are linked to a change in biomechanics of the limb as the monkey begins to move, specifically to the state-dependent properties of muscles. We suggest that, like M1, neural populations in PMd and PMv are more directly linked with the motor periphery than previously thought.