Functional somatotopy revealed across multiple cortical regions using a model of complex motor task

David A. Cunningham, Andre Machado, Guang H. Yue, Jim R. Carey, Ela B. Plow

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47 Scopus citations


Abstract The primary motor cortex (M1) possesses a functional somatotopic structure - representations of adjacent within-limb joints overlap to facilitate coordination while maintaining discrete centers for individuated movement. We examined whether similar organization exists across other sensorimotor cortices. Twenty-four right-handed healthy subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while tracking complex targets with flexion/extension at right finger, elbow and ankle separately. Activation related to each joint at false discovery rate of 0.005 served as its representation across multiple regions. Within each region, we identified the center of mass (COM) for each representation, and the overlap between the representations of within-limb (finger and elbow) and between-limb joints (finger and ankle). Somatosensory (S1) and premotor cortices (PMC) demonstrated greater distinction of COM and minimal overlap for within- and between-limb representations. In contrast, M1 and supplementary motor area (SMA) showed more integrative somatotopy with higher sharing for within-limb representations. Superior and inferior parietal lobule (SPL and IPL) possessed both types of structure. Some clusters exhibited extensive overlap of within- and between-limb representations, while others showed discrete COMs for within-limb representations. Our results help to infer hierarchy in motor control. Areas such as S1 may be associated with individuated movements, while M1 may be more integrative for coordinated motion; parietal associative regions may allow switch between both modes of control. Such hierarchy creates redundant opportunities to exploit in stroke rehabilitation. The use of complex rather than traditionally used simple movements was integral to illustrating comprehensive somatotopic structure; complex tasks can potentially help to understand cortical representation of skill and learning-related plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-36
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Sep 19 2013


  • Keywords Somatotopy Representation Motor map Motor control Movement Posterior parietal cortex Primary motor cortex or M1 Functional MRI or fMRI


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