Microstimulation of primate motor thalamus: Somatotopic organization and differential distribution of evoked motor responses among subnuclei

Jerrold L. Vitek, James Ashe, Mahlon R. Delong, Yoshiki Kaneoke

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1. The functional organization of motor responses to microstimulation throughout the primate 'motor' thalamus including nucleus ventralis lateralis, pars oralis (VLo); nucleus ventralis posterior lateralis, pars oralis (VPLo); nucleus ventralis lateralis, pars caudalis (VLc); and portions of ventralis anterior (VA) and area X, was systematically studied in awake monkeys. A total of 2,021 sites were examined for their response to microstimulation. Of these, 1.123 were histologically verified as to their location within the motor thalamus. At or near each site, isolated neurons were examined for their responses to somatosensory examination and active movement (n = 1,272). This study was carried out as part of a larger study examining the responses of neurons in the motor thalamus to somatosensory examination, torque-induced limb perturbations, and active movement in a visuomotor step-tracking task. 2. Microstimulation at ≤40 μA evoked movements in the contralateral limbs, trunk, or face. Evoked movements of the limb were generally maximal about a single joint. 3. There was a differential response to microstimulation between subnuclei of the motor thalamus. In order of decreasing frequency, the percentages of sites within each subnucleus from which movements were evoked were as follows: VPLo, 93% (449 of 483); VLo, 21% (57 of 272); VLc, 11% (15 of 140); VA, 1% (1 of 85); and reticular nucleus, 0% (0 of 65). In VPLc, 44% (34 of 78) of sites examined were microexcitable. However, these were almost all within 500 μm of the border of VPLo, suggesting they may have occurred as a result of current spread to adjacent VPLo. Although area X was not sampled in its entirety, it did not appear to be microexcitable. 4. Microexcitable responses had a somatotopic organization, similar to that for neuronal responses to sensorimotor examination, with leg responses found most laterally and arm and face responses found progressively more medially. 5. Zones in VPLo generally ranging from 500 to 1,500 μm were found in which microstimulation resulted in the same motor response. These microexcitable zones resemble those described for the striatum and were termed thalamic microexcitable zones (TMZ). TMZs also resemble cortical efferent zones in that both are somatotopically organized, may affect a single muscle or group of muscles, have low thresholds for microstimulation with sharp boundaries that lie adjacent to other microexcitable zones with the opposite effects, and are of approximately the same dimension. 6. This study suggests that a fundamental unit of motor organization. i.e., single muscle or joint, is preserved at the thalamic level in the form of TMZs, and that these fundamental units of organization may contribute to the modular organization of the cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2486-2495
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes

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