Activation of Visuomotor Systems during Visually Guided Movements: A Functional MRI Study

Jutta M. Ellermann, Joel D. Siegal, John P. Strupp, Timothy J. Ebner, Kâmil Ugurbil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The dorsal stream is a dominant visuomotor pathway that connects the striate and extrastriate cortices to posterior parietal areas. In turn, the posterior parietal areas send projections to the frontal primary motor and premotor areas. This cortical pathway is hypothesized to be involved in the transformation of a visual input into the appropriate motor output. In this study we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the entire brain to determine the patterns of activation that occurred while subjects performed a visually guided motor task. In nine human subjects, fMRI data were acquired on a 4-T whole-body MR system equipped with a head gradient coil and a birdcage RF coil using a T*2-weighted EPI sequence. Functional activation was determined for three different tasks: (1) a visuomotor task consisting of moving a cursor on a screen with a joystick in relation to various targets, (2) a hand movement task consisting of moving the joy-stick without visual input, and (3) a eye movement task consisting of moving the eyes alone without visual input. Blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast-based activation maps of each subject were generated using period cross-correlation statistics. Subsequently, each subject's brain was normalized to Talairach coordinates, and the individual maps were compared on a pixel by pixel basis. Significantly activated pixels common to at least four out of six subjects were retained to construct the final functional image. The pattern of activation during visually guided movements was consistent with the flow of information from striate and extrastriate visual areas, to the posterior parietal complex, and then to frontal motor areas. The extensive activation of this network and the reproducibility among subjects is consistent with a role for the dorsal stream in transforming visual information into motor behavior. Also extensively activated were the medial and lateral cerebellar structures, implicating the cortico-ponto-cerebellar pathway in visually guided movements. Thalamic activation, particularly of the pulvinar, suggests that this nucleus is an important subcortical target of the dorsal stream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-285
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Magnetic Resonance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by NIH Grants RRO8079 and NS31530, and the Human Frontier Science Program.


  • BOLD response
  • Brain function
  • Dorsal stream
  • Visuomotor
  • fMRI


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