Descending systems translate transient cortical commands into a sustained muscle activation signal

Uri Shalit, Nofya Zinger, Mati Joshua, Yifat Prut*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Controlling motor actions requires online adjustments of time-varying parameters. Although numerous studies have attempted to identify the parameters coded in different motor sites, the relationships between the temporal profile of neuronal responses and the dynamics of motor behavior remain poorly understood in particular because motor parameters such as force and movement direction often change over time. We studied time-dependent coding of cortical and spinal neurons in primates performing an isometric wrist task with an active hold period, which made it possible to segregate motor behavior into its phasic and sustained components. Here, we show that cortical neurons transiently code motor-related parameters when actively acquiring a goal, whereas spinal interneurons provide persistent information regarding maintained torque level and posture. Moreover, motor cortical neurons differed substantially from spinal neurons with regard to the evolvement of parameter-specific coding over the course of a trial. These results suggest that the motor cortex and spinal cord use different control policies: Cortical neurons produce transient motor commands governing ensuing actions, whereas spinal neurons exhibit sustained coding of ongoing motor states. Hence, motor structures downstream to M1 need to integrate cortical commands to produce state-dependent spinal firing.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1904-1914
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Israel Science Foundation grants (ISF-1490/09); Binational Science Foundation (BSF-2007442); Baruch Foundation; Rosetr-ees Foundation.


  • motor control
  • motor cortex
  • mutual information
  • spinal cord
  • tuning


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